The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

July 2003
 

31 July: Professor Cyril P. Foray, a scholar who went on to serve as Sierra Leone's foreign minister and High Commissioner at the Court of St. James in London, has died in Freetown after reportedly suffering a massive heart attack. Foray, a graduate of Freetown's St. Edward's Secondary School, had been a Professor of History and Principal at Fourah Bay College. He served as foreign minister from 1969 to 1971 and was twice appointed High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, first under the NPRC military regime and later by President Kabbah.

A vanguard force of 1,500 Nigerian peacekeeping troops will be on the ground in war-torn Liberia by Monday, ECOWAS Secretary-General Mohamed Ibn Chambas said in Accra on Thursday. The force will be comprised of a Nigerian battalion ending its tour of duty with the U.N. peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone, NIBATT 15 in Makeni, which will be deployed using logistics from UNAMSIL. A second battalion will be deployed from Lagos. According to a communiqué issued at the conclusion of an extraordinary one-day summit of ECOWAS nation leaders, Liberian President Charles Taylor will be required to leave within three days of the force's arrival for exile in Nigeria. Chambas and foreign ministers from Nigeria, Ghana and Togo will leave for Monrovia on Friday to arrange for Taylor to hand over power to his successor and to leave for Nigeria. Earlier this week, Taylor suggested in an interview with Newsweek magazine that he might decide to give up power but remain in Liberia. The statement drew fire from U.S. officials. "Charles Taylor's departure is an essential part of the strategy that we have worked out with the United Nations and ECOWAS," U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Reuters news agency. The U.S. has ordered an amphibious task force to Liberian waters to support the peacekeeping effort, and has already pledged $10 million for logistics. On Wednesday, the U.S. put forth a draft resolution in the United Nations Security Council which would authorise the ECOWAS force immediately, and replace it with a United Nations peacekeeping force in October. 

U.S. Ambassador Peter Chaveas signed a long-term land lease agreement with Sierra Leone's Minister of Lands, Country Planning and the Environment Thursday, clearing the way for the construction of a new embassy in Freetown. Groundbreaking for the new site, which is located in the Hill Station area, is planned for early next year. The new embassy is expected to be operational by 2005. "The construction of a new U.S. Embassy is not only an indication of the importance of bilateral relations between our two countries, but is a strong expression of U.S. Government confidence in the stability and future of Sierra Leone," Chaveas said in a statement. "Completion of this facility is a critical step forward in restoring a fully functional U.S. mission in this country." Due in part to security concerns, the current embassy at the corner of Siaka Stevens and Walpole Streets has not offered full consular services since the AFRC military coup in 1997.

Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) may seek an extension of its 18-month mandate, Commissioner Yasmin Sooka of South Africa told the BBC. "The Commission has been asked both by government and by the U.N. as well to ask for an extension of its life span so it can do more hearings in the provinces," Sooka said. The TRC was established following Sierra Leone's brutal decade-long civil war to take down the stories of the victims, the perpetrators and the witnesses of human rights violations,, to address the problem of impunity, to help the victims of the war, promote reconciliation, and prevent a repetition of the abuses. Its current mandate expires in October. Sooka said the Commission wanted to encourage testimony by perpetrators, including a number of persons indicted and currently detained by Sierra Leone's U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal. "We've not been able to get access yet, and that's still under discussion between us and the Special Court," she said. "But we have had a wide number of RUF commanders and CDF commanders and some of the AFRC people as well testifying before the Commission and asking for the forgiveness of their communities, which I think is an important step in beginning the reconciliation process." Unlike a similar Truth and Reconciliation Commission in her native South Africa which Sooka was also involved with, Sierra Leone's Commission has neither the power to grant clemency nor to punish those who fail to appear before it. But Sooka said she felt the TRC had the necessary powers to do its job. "I think because of the kind of approach the Commission has taken to emphasise that it's important for perpetrators to come before the Commission and to speak before the communities that they harmed, to seek the forgiveness and the acknowledgement of wrongdoing," she said. "I think it's been very, very successful."

30 July: Foday Saybana Sankoh, the once-feared rebel leader who plunged his country into a decade of brutal civil war, died in hospital late Tuesday of natural causes. He was believed to be about 65. Sankoh had been in detention since May 2000, after his bodyguards opened fire on a crowd of protesters outside his Freetown residence. More than 20 people died in the incident. Sankoh had been in poor health since August 2002, when he suffered a stroke which left him partially paralyzed. Following his indictment last March for war crimes and crimes against humanity, he was transferred to the custody of Sierra Leone's Special Court. His condition continued to deteriorate, however, and in late March he was transferred to the Choithram Hospital for observation and treatment. In recent months, Sankoh was said to be in a catatonic state, unable to care for himself or to respond to his environment. The rebel leader, once known simply as "Papay" to his thousands of admiring young followers, died in hospital at 10:40 p.m. Tuesday.  A former corporal in the Sierra Leone Army, Sankoh served with the 1960s-era U.N. peacekeeping force in the Congo, and even did a brief signals course in England. His military career ended abruptly, however, when he was implicated in a coup attempt against then-President Siaka Stevens. Cashiered from the army, embittered and jobless after serving six years at Pademba Road Prison, Sankoh made his living as a portrait photographer in the eastern town of Segbwema. He later made his way to Libya where, in the late 1980s, he is said to have founded his rebel movement, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). It was while training in the Libyan camps that Sankoh met another future rebel leader, now President of Liberia Charles Taylor. Sankoh and his followers reportedly fought alongside Taylor's NPFL in Liberia before launching their own rebellion into eastern Sierra Leone in March 1991. Portrayed as fighting for Sierra Leone's dispossessed rural population against a corrupt urban elite, Sankoh's RUF soon acquired a reputation for unparalleled brutality, often hacking off the limbs of those they believed to be sympathetic to the government. In November 1996 Sankoh signed a peace agreement in Abidjan, but soon abandoned it. In early 1997 he travelled to Nigeria where he was detained by the Nigerian authorities on weapons charges. Following the military coup in May 1997, Sankoh was made the nominal vice chairman of the AFRC, and ordered his followers to join the junta. Following the AFRC's ouster in 1998 the Nigerian authorities sent him back to Freetown, where he was convicted of treason and sentenced to death. In March 1999, following the bloody rebel attack on Freetown, he was released and sent to Togo to negotiate a ceasefire and later a peace accord which gave him control of a commission overseeing the country's mineral resources and the protocol rank of vice president. He returned to Freetown in December 1999, but his cooperation with the government lasted barely five months. Court officials said Tuesday there would be a post mortem to establish the exact cause of death. 

REACTION to the death of RUF leader Foday Sankoh. 
DEPUTY SPECIAL COURT PROSECUTOR DESMOND DE SILVA: "(Foday Sankoh)  has been granted the peaceful end that he denied to so many others. His death will not stop the prosecution from leading evidence through other trials of his involvement in the most evil of deeds that have left a legacy of horror in the minds and memories of those who survive him.”
FORMER RUF PARTY SECRETARY-GENERAL PALLO BANGURA: "Any human loss is very sad. So that's the first reaction. Secondly, the stage where the developments have reached with the indictments, ideally one would have wanted an opportunity to hear Foday Sankoh's story himself, rather than being told by any other person. And now, we will not be able to have that opportunity. And thirdly, where we have come from, when we look back, we would never want to go back there. We want to move on. We want to consolidate this peace, and it entails a very painful choice and that is of forgiveness and reconciliation."
PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN KANJI DARAMY: The government had hoped to see Sankoh face trial to explain his "barbaric acts" and help Sierra Leoneans to understand "what was happening in his mind, for him to have committed so many atrocities."
FATOU MBAYE SANKOH, WIFE OF FODAY SANKOH: "I feel very, very bad. Very bad. He was very, very sick and nothing had been done for him. This is the only thing they can do - just kill him. They cannot take his soul." (On Sankoh's treatment by the Special Court) "If he's a monster, why did they kill him? Why did they not take care of him for him to face trial? He needed further treatment. Why did they refuse to send him abroad?" (On the war crimes allegations) "Yeah, but which victims? I didn't think about any victims unless the court establishes that he's guilty. We are living in a civilized world. People...are using negative propaganda against him."
JUSTICE MINISTER AND ATTORNEY-GENERAL EKE HALLOWAY: "We believe in the rule of law, and the rule of law prevails irrespective of who you are, whether you're Foday Sankoh or some other indictee. I would have preferred him to go through his trial so that many things might come out at the end of the day as to certain things possibly that are not in our knowledge." (On whether Sankoh's death complicates the Special Court's prosecution of former Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman) "There is no complication. It's a normal cause. They have been indicted. The indictment is now in the Special Court and so the trial goes on."
NIGERIAN FOREIGN MINISTER OLUYEMI ADENIJI: "My impression of him was he was not a credible interlocutor. Any interlocutor who would agree with you on something and then do the opposite cannot be a credible interlocutor. And I made that clear, even to him. He might have other qualities, but reaching an agreement and sticking to it was not one of them."
LANSANA GBERIE, PARTNERSHIP AFRICA CANADA: "Sankoh's trial and conviction for crimes against humanity in a transparent and internationally mandated Court would have had the added benefit of exposing the criminal and mercenary nature of his brand of 'revolution' which destroyed so many lives, including many young ones. It is important that his death not undermine interest in the Special Court, which is a profoundly important experiment in post-conflict justice in Sierra Leone."
SPECIAL COURT CHIEF INVESTIGATOR DR. ALAN WHITE: "It's unfortunate that the people of Sierra Leone will not be able to witness the trial of Foday Sankoh...Unfortunately that will not happen, but it will not impact at all the prosecution of the other individuals that have been indicted. The death of Foday Sankoh will have absolutely no bearing on our ability to gather information and prosecute any of the other individuals. We have not relied on any information Foday Sankoh had provided to support our prosecution. The evidence that we have is totally independent of anything that Foday Sankoh could have provided or would have provided."
FORMER RUF POLITICAL AND PEACE COUNCIL CHAIRMAN OMRIE GOLLEY: "I would like to take the occasion of Sankoh's death for us all to revisit the peace process and to look into ways in which the peace process can be further consolidated, to look at some of the potential problem points, i.e., the fact that the reintegration of ex-combatants, and addressing some of the endemic problems we still have in our society that could provide potential breeding grounds for people that may want to destabilize what we've all worked hard to achieve. Maybe we should use the opportunity of his death to see how the peace process could be enhanced further and consolidated further and nurtured further."
INFORMATION MINISTER SEPTIMUS KAIKAI: "People would have loved for him to go through the trial, to actually see what was the reason, the motivation, behind all the things that he has supposed to have done in this country."
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: "Foday Sankoh's death will not diminish the Special Court's role in ending impunity. Foday Sankoh's death, however, deprives the hundreds of victims of atrocities during Sierra Leone’s internal armed conflict of the opportunity of seeing one of those accused of being responsible tried and held accountable."
TRC COMMISSIONER YASMIN SOOKA: "On the one hand, while Foday Sankoh was not really in a position either to stand trial or to testify before the (Truth and Reconciliation) Commission because he was very incoherent, I think symbolically it has a huge impact on both the work of the Commission and the tribunal. Because of the cycle of impunity, I think people needed to see that this man, the perpetrator and in fact the creator of most of the violence in Sierra Leone, should have stood before the people in some sort of capacity."
FORMER SANKOH AIDE PATRICK BOCKARI: "I have no sympathy for Foday Sankoh himself. In spite of the terrible suffering that our country went through due to the war he started, he was given an opportunity by the terms of the Lomé Peace Agreement...He had the entire economy given to him on a plate and he could have brought our country out of poverty and exploitation. Sankoh threw everything away." Patrick Bockari is a long-time political activist who was nominated by Sankoh in 2000 to be Executive Director of the Committee for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development.

The United States introduced a draft resolution in the United Nations Security Council late Wednesday calling for the world body to authorise the immediate deployment of West African peacekeepers in Liberia. The regional force would then be replaced by a United Nations peacekeeping force by October 1. Under the draft resolution, U.N. peacekeepers would be given Chapter 7 authority, which would allow peacekeepers to use all necessary force to establish and maintain a ceasefire between government forces and rebel groups. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who urged the Council on Tuesday to create a peacekeeping force with a "robust mandate," said the conditions in Liberia appeared favourable for such an effort. "This is one of those rare situations where even though the ceasefire has broken down, both sides genuinely seem to want an international multinational force to come in – not just the government and the rebels, but also the population," Annan said.

A military fact-finding team has gone to Liberia to prepare the ground for the deployment of a multinational peacekeeping force, the BBC reported. The team is made up of officials from the United States, Britain and five West African countries. They arrived from Ghana, and will spend the next few days assessing the situation in Monrovia and the surrounding area. According to the Associated Press, six West African countries – Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Benin, Senegal and Togo – have pledged a total of 3,250 troops to a proposed 5,000-member peacekeeping force for the war-torn nation. Meanwhile, fighting continued in Liberia's capital Wednesday despite the announcement Tuesday of a unilateral ceasefire by the country's largest rebel group, LURD. A spokesman for President Charles Taylor rejected the truce on the grounds that LURD had broken a previous ceasefire agreement. A LURD spokesman in Monrovia said the truce had been called on humanitarian grounds, but that the rebels would continue to fight on if the government refused to reciprocate. "If President Taylor is not interested in our ceasefire proposal, that is his business," said LURD Captain Sekou Fofana. "What we are telling the international community is that the reason for ceasefire is for humanitarian reasons because we know that the people are suffering in Monrovia. We cannot continue the war, but if Taylor says they're not interested it's left up to him. We will fight him to the last." Food and water for the city's residents and for thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees is running short, and aid agencies are warning of an imminent humanitarian disaster if the fighting continues. 

29 July: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has asked the Security Council to approve the immediate deployment of Nigerian peacekeepers to Liberia, using logistics from UNAMSIL, the U.N. peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone. In a letter to the Council on Tuesday, Annan said he needed a mandate to speed up the transfer of one, and possibly two, battalions from Sierra Leone to Liberia. Annan asked the Council to give UNAMSIL "the necessary mandate to use its resources to provide full support for the deployment and sustainment" of a vanguard peacekeeping force from the West African regional body ECOWAS. In Monrovia, the Liberian government rejected a LURD ceasefire which would have left the rebel group in control of the capital city's port. Rebel leaders said they would pull back to Freeport to await the arrival of West African peacekeepers, and then withdraw beyond the Po River. "(LURD) must release their stranglehold on the city and that means withdrawing to the positions they held prior to the June 17 ceasefire agreement," Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Lewis Brown told the Reuters news agency in Accra. Despite LURD's announcement of a unilateral ceasefire, fighting between government and rebel forces continued in the capital Tuesday. In the east, government troops battled to recapture the port city of Buchanan, which was overrun by MODEL rebel forces on Monday. Because of the rebel attacks, Liberian President Charles Taylor is reportedly reconsidering his pledge to step down and leave the country. Earlier this month, Taylor accepted an offer of asylum in Nigeria which would shield him from war crimes charges by the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. Taylor insisted he would remain on until peacekeepers arrived in his country. Now, according to the Reuters news agency, his spokesman says he may decide not to leave after all. "We are of a different opinion now in the government about the validity of the overtures of the president to step down," Vaani Passawe said. "So if you start hearing us say differently, you shouldn't be surprised." Passawe said Taylor's offer to go into exile had been interpreted by the rebels as a sign of weakness. "In fact, it has escalated the war," he said.

The leader of Liberia's largest rebel group said Tuesday his troops would break off their attack on Monrovia and declare a unilateral ceasefire to allow West African peacekeepers to intervene in the war-torn country. "We will stop fighting until the peacekeepers arrive, unless attacked by Taylor's forces," LURD leader Sekou Conneh (pictured left) was quoted as saying. According to news services, the rebels said they would pull back to Freeport, where the peacekeepers are expected to deploy. Once the force arrives, they would withdraw beyond the Po River, about seven miles from the city. The announcement came hours after Nigerian Foreign Minister Oluyemi Adeniji (right) suggested in a BBC interview that no peacekeepers would be sent until the fighting stopped and there was a peace to keep. "Let them stop the fighting now," Adeniji said. "Usually before you include peacekeepers into any situation, fighting stops, and then the peacekeepers will go in and make sure they separate the combatants to make sure to make sure that the ceasefire is not violated, and if violated, to be able to identify who's responsible for the violation." Adeniji, who until recently served as the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative in Sierra Leone, said there was also the question of logistics and resources for the peacekeepers, which are initially expected to be drawn from two Nigerian battalions. "It's not enough for Nigeria to designate troops, but these troops will have to make sure are going to be properly supported," he said, adding: "That's where the international community comes in." 

Fighting around the Liberian capital Monrovia this weekend engulfed the Samukai refugee camp, which had been home to more than 3,500 Sierra Leonean refugees, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Tuesday. UNHCR staff said large numbers of the refugees fled the camp ahead of a rebel advance. Other reports, however, allege that the rebels were expecting a government counter-attack in the area, and advised the refugees and Liberian residents to leave the area. Some of the refugees at Samukai had been registered for an emergency sea evacuation to Sierra Leone on July 20. Plans to take a fifth shipload of evacuees to Sierra Leone had to be put on hold when the latest round of fighting which broke out on July 18 prevented the ship, the MV Overbeck, from docking in Monrovia. The U.N.-chartered ship is standing by in Freetown to resume evacuations once the security situation allows. In its first four voyages, the Overbeck conducted 1,250 refugees to safety in Sierra Leone.

West African security chiefs meeting in the Ghanaian capital Accra say it is unlikely that regional peacekeeping troops will be deployed immediately in Liberia, the BBC reported. Two Nigerian infantry battalions, one just finishing a tour of duty with the U.N. peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone, had been tapped to be the vanguard of the new ECOWAS force, ECOMIL. Officials said, however, that the fighting between Liberian government and rebel forces was preventing the regional body from sending even a reconnaissance mission. MODEL rebels captured the Liberian port city of Buchanan Monday, while LURD overran the government stronghold of Gbarnga and continued their attack Monrovia. Government forces were said to be mounting counter-attacks on Tuesday in an effort to retake the two towns. In London, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo told the BBC his country was ready to send peacekeepers to Liberia, but that Nigeria lacked the means to finance a peacekeeping operation alone. "It is our problem, but it is not our problem alone," he said. "It is in fact Africa's problem and it is a world problem...(the troops) are not there because we haven't got the capacity to do all that is necessary, and we made that clear." Obasanjo said twelve years of peacekeeping efforts in Liberia and Sierra Leone had cost his country $12 billion and more than 1,000 Nigerian lives. A peacekeeping force in Liberia is expected to cost over $100 million, and the Obasanjo said that so far no country had stepped forward with the necessary funds. "What we are saying is give us adequate material and logistic support and we will do the job," he said. "We have two battalions of over 1,500 ready to go in. We cannot do that alone."

28 July: West African security chiefs met with U.S. military experts and Western diplomats in Accra Monday in an effort to finalise plans for an ECOWAS peacekeeping force for Liberia, but again put off a decision on when the force should be deployed. "We're still mobilizing logistics – the logistics are not yet ready," said Nigerian Brigadier-General Festus Okonkwo, who is expected to lead the ECOWAS Military Mission in Liberia (ECOMIL). "As soon as they are ready and we are asked to go in, we will go in," he added. According to Radio France International, the cost of deploying 6,000 soldiers for six months is expected to total about $110 million. So far, ECOWAS has a received a pledge of just $10 million, from the United States. Meanwhile, the situation has continued to deteriorate in Liberia, where rebels battled government forces Monday on three fronts. LURD stepped up its attack on Monrovia after rejecting a call from U.S. Ambassador John Blaney for a ceasefire with the Po River serving as a natural boundary to separate the warring factions. LURD leader Sekou Conneh said LURD was willing to hand over territory to an international peacekeeping force, but not to the government. Some 150 miles to the east, rebels from the group MODEL launched a morning attack on Liberia's second city of Buchanan, while LURD fighters battled loyalist troops for the government stronghold of Gbarnga.

27 July: The spiritual head of the Anglican Church, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, arrived in Freetown Sunday as part of a week-long West African tour which took him to Ghana, Gambia and Sierra Leone. The purpose of his visit, according to a church statement, was to "encourage, support and stand alongside" the Anglican communities in the three countries. He was expected to meet with religious, political and traditional leaders as well as the people and clergy of twelve dioceses. According to the BBC, Williams was scheduled to hold a service at Freetown's National Stadium. 

25 July: A Sierra Leone-based lawyer for Liberian President Charles Taylor has filed a motion with Sierra Leone's U.N.-backed Special Court challenging the tribunal's jurisdiction to indict Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the Associated Press reported. Attorney Terrence Terry, who was appointed to represent Taylor by Liberian Attorney-General Edward Goba, filed the 13-page motion with the court on Wednesday. Terry's motion challenged the court's jurisdiction on two grounds: that Liberia is a sovereign state and not subject to Sierra Leonean law, and that Taylor as a sitting president enjoys immunity from criminal prosecution. Taylor was indicted by the court on March 7, but the indictment was sealed and only announced last month. He is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. 

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) is worried about the fate of thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees stranded in the war-torn Liberian capital, Monrovia. An emergency sea evacuation exercise which started July 4 had to be put on hold Monday when the rescue ship MV Overbeck was forced to return empty to Freetown because it was too dangerous to dock in Monrovia. A UNHCR spokesman in Geneva said aid workers had lost contact with the thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees at Samukai and Banjor camps on the outskirts of the city. The fate of thousands of refugees and displaced persons in other parts of the country remains unknown as well. They have been without even basic assistance for months following the suspension of aid programmes because of insecurity. In the Liberian capital, more than 800 desperate and hungry refugees – 600 of them Sierra Leoneans – have crowded into the UNHCR's Mamba Point compound. Even there, they are not safe. "Every available space is taken in the compound, which has also been hit by stray gunfire," the spokesman said. He added that, so far, those sheltering in the compound had escaped injury. Meanwhile, U.S. President George W. Bush ordered the Pentagon Friday to position "appropriate military capabilities" off the coast of Liberia in support of an ECOWAS peacekeeping mission to the country. The U.S. has come under international pressure to take a leading rule in a multinational peacekeeping force, but a White House spokesman said the American role would be a supporting one. "The U.S. role will be limited in time and scope as multinational forces under the United Nations assume the responsibility for peacekeeping, and as the United States arranges a political transition in Liberia," spokesman Scott McClellan said in a statement.

A United Nations Security Council mission which visited West Africa last month has recommended that the government of Sierra Leone intensify its efforts to develop the capacity of its armed forces and police to ensure security when U.N. peacekeepers leave at the end of next year. According to Council President Inocencio F. Arias of Spain, the mission recommended that the U.N. carefully assess Sierra Leone's successful Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme, and give careful consideration to the roles played by women during the conflict, and in subsequent peacemaking and peace building. Regionally, the mission emphasised the importance of a sub-regional approach to such issues as small arms and light weapons proliferation, the problem of mercenaries, child soldiers and humanitarian access by aid workers.

24 July: President Kabbah delivered an address on Sierra Leone's prospects for lasting peace and development before London's Royal Commonwealth Society on Thursday, while outside a small group of protesters heckled the president and demanded that he release jailed former Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman. Norman faces charges before a U.N.-backed tribunal in Sierra Leone for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the pro-government Kamajor militia he headed during Sierra Leone's civil war. "The Kabbah protest was described by the organisers as being 'the Mother of All Protests.' It turned out to be nothing of the sort," said Mano Vision Editor Ade Daramy, who covered the event for the Sierra Leone Web. "At its height, there were 15 protestors in total. They were cordoned off in front of the venue, and they made up in volume what they lacked in numbers." In a meeting this week with U.K.-based members of his ruling SLPP party, Kabbah insisted that he did not have the authority to tell the court what to do, and he argued that it would be difficult to end the culture of impunity in Sierra Leone if those accused of serious human rights abuses were not held accountable. The demonstrators disagreed. "The president arrived and was ushered in past his protestors, who hurled abuse at him, accusing him of being as much a war criminal as Hinga Norman," Daramy said. "They displayed photos, including one of Tony Blair being greeted at Lungi Airport by Norman. They also accused the president of presiding over a government that was becoming as corrupt as any previous regime. They demanded answers to questions regarding oil exploration in the country, and why there were no visible signs of improvements to any sector of Sierra Leonean society." Inside the hall, Daramy said, Kabbah received a much warmer welcome. "He gave a speech lasting one hour and one minute, covering every aspect of life in Sierra Leone, from peace and economic wealth, to the fight against HIV/AIDS and the role of women in society," Daramy said. "He also mentioned the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Special Court. He ended to warm applause and later attended a reception at the same venue, where he was engulfed in a sea of smiles and handshakes."

Nigerian Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant-General Martin Luther Agwai arrived in Sierra Leone Thursday for talks with representatives of the U.N., ECOWAS and the United States military on plans to redeploy a battalion of Nigerian UNAMSIL troops for peacekeeping duties in Liberia. Agwai said the 734-strong Nigerian 15th Battalion in Makeni and a second Nigeria-based battalion will make up the vanguard of a new multinational peacekeeping force for the war-torn country. Soldiers of the 15th Battalion, NIBATT-15, are ending their tour of duty in Sierra Leone, and were due to leave for home next week. Instead, they will head for Liberia, where Agwai said their mission will be the same as it was in Sierra Leone – to remain in place until the warring factions have been disarmed and elections held. "The force will stay as long as it is possible to have peace, stability, elections, disarmament," he said. Everything that happened in Sierra Leone, we want to see it in Liberia, so that we can put behind all the instability and look forward to a sub-region that is peaceful." A timetable for the deployment has not yet been set, and a final decision on when peacekeepers will leave for Monrovia will be decided at a follow-up meeting next Monday in Accra. Failure to deliver on several previous pledges of peacekeepers for Liberia has resulted in criticism of the regional body, but Agwai insisted the delays were due to a lack of funds, not of political will. That should now change. The United States this week committed $10 million to the regional peacekeeping effort, and Agwai said there could be additional American aid in the future. Agwai, who served as Deputy Commander of the U.N. force that helped restore peace in Sierra Leone, told reporters he was optimistic that the same could be done for Liberia. "I hope in the spirit of West African  brotherhood, we will be able to find a compromise," he said. "When I first came to Sierra Leone, everybody said the RUF will never agree, they will never do this, they will never do that. Now it's history. We hope the groups that are fighting in Liberia will soon see the light and accept that the best way is not a military solution but a political solution."

The departure of a Nigerian battalion for peacekeeping duties in Liberia will not affect the U.N.'s ability to keep the peace in Sierra Leone, UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande said on Thursday. "We had a plan which we are implementing which called for the drawdown," Opande said in an interview with the BBC. "In fact, this battalion that is now moving into Liberia was supposed to be drawn down. In other words it was supposed to return home next week." Opande acknowledged that there was always the potential for a spillover of violence from Liberia to Sierra Leone, but he said his troops were ready. "We have enough troops deployed all along the border and monitoring the border very carefully," he said. "We are confident that we can deal with any spillover."

An American decision to send troops to join a multinational peacekeeping force in Liberia is imminent, and is expected to come within the next 24 hours, the Voice of America reported late Thursday. According to unnamed Pentagon sources, the U.S. is expected to announce the creation of what will be called "Joint Task Force Liberia," and will involve an unspecified number of troops from the U.S. military's European Command – the regional headquarters unit which is responsible for most of Africa. The sources say the U.S. amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima and two support ships may be deployed off the Liberian coast to serve as a platform for U.S. peacekeepers. The amphibious ready group, which includes 2,300 Marines, was recently ordered into the Mediterranean from the Horn of Africa region in readiness for a possible mission in Liberia. 

23 July: Swiss authorities have frozen two bank accounts in Geneva and Zurich belonging to associates of Liberian President Charles Taylor, the Swiss Justice Ministry said on Wednesday. The accounts contained two million Swiss francs, or about $1.5 million. The action was taken at the behest of Sierra Leone's Special Court, which indicted the Liberian leader in March for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sierra Leone during the country's civil war. In June, the Justice Ministry ordered Swiss banks to block all accounts belonging to Taylor, his relatives, "members of his regime and various business people and companies." The owners of the two accounts were not identified, but a Justice Ministry statement said no accounts held directly by Taylor had been found. According to records released by the Swiss National Bank, the impoverished nation has more $3.3 billion worth of assets in Switzerland, and does more financial transactions with Switzerland than any other African nation. According to World Bank figures, Liberia's Gross Domestic Product for 2001 was $522.9 million. In a statement released by the Special Court prosecutor's office in Freetown, Deputy Prosecutor Desmond de Silva welcomed the Swiss action to freeze the accounts. "We have got to penetrate the walls of concealment that this indicted war criminal has thrown around his looted wealth," de Silva said. Efforts by the court to identify Taylor's assets are continuing and are not limited to Switzerland, the statement said. Meanwhile a Dutch lawyer said Wednesday he had been asked to represent Taylor before the Special Court, the Associated Press reported. Michail Wladimiroff, an international criminal lawyer and former Professor of International Criminal Law, gave no details, and he declined to say whether Taylor intended to appear personally before the court. The Liberian leader has denounced the charges against him as politically motivated, and has described the U.N.-backed tribunal as a local court which has no jurisdiction in Liberia.

Britain's commitment to Sierra Leone is "as strong as ever," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on Tuesday, following a meeting in London with President Kabbah and Foreign Minister Momodu Koroma. Straw (pictured right) said the talks focused on Sierra Leone's security. "A key factor in ensuring continued stability is a capable, organised police force and well-trained armed forces," he said. He added that Sierra Leone was committed to tackling some of the root causes of conflict, such as misgovernance and corruption. The U.K. has pledged £120 million to development projects in Sierra Leone over the next three years, and maintains an "over the horizon" commitment to support peace in the war-ravaged country. Straw said this would continue. "The U.K.'s commitment to Sierra Leone is as strong as ever," he said. "The country has enjoyed more than a year of peace, and work to consolidate that peace is well advanced. Sierra Leone has demonstrated that, with the right commitment, peace can be attained even in the bleakest of situations. But much remains to be done to secure the brighter future its people deserve." Meanwhile, a British parliamentary official arrived in Sierra Leone on Wednesday for a three-day visit. Chris Mullin (left) was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office last month, with responsibility for Africa. During this visit, a High Commission spokesman said, Mullin will meet with government and opposition leaders and representatives of civil society groups. He will also address a Multi-Donor conference in Freetown on Thursday. Mullin is also scheduled to visit the Mape Internment Camp to see first hand the effects of the continuing conflict in Liberia. A former BBC journalist, Mullin was first elected to parliament in 1987, representing Sunderland South.

West African security chiefs and ministers meeting in Dakar have agreed to deploy two battalions of around 1,300 Nigerian troops to serve as the vanguard of a peacekeeping force in Liberia, the BBC said on Wednesday. One of the Nigerian battalions, NIBATT 15, is currently serving with the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone. ECOWAS Executive-Secretary Mohamed Ibn Chambas said a final decision on timing would be taken later, but that he expected the peacekeepers to be in Monrovia within a week. Regional leaders were quoted as saying the force would only deploy if LURD rebels and government forces stop fighting, but Chambas suggested that the peacekeepers would be go to Monrovia despite the continuing strife. "We believe that the parties will work with this force," he said. "The force is not going there to take the parties on but just to help the deteriorating humanitarian situation. We hope that the parties will respect the ceasefire agreement that they have signed." Despite a call by LURD negotiators in Accra for their forces to observe a ceasefire, however, fighting continued Wednesday in and around the beleaguered Liberian capital. Rebel forces briefly captured the strategic Stockton Creek Bridge at midday, but were later pushed back by government forces – the fourth time the bridge has changed hands in recent days. Reuters quoted Chambas as saying a team of U.S. and Nigerian military experts was due in Freetown on Wednesday to work out the logistics of the deployment. The United States, under international pressure to lead a multinational peacekeeping force in Liberia, has committed $10 million to the effort but has not yet said whether it will send American soldiers. Leaders of Liberia's two rebel groups, LURD and MODEL, have demanded that Taylor step down before peacekeepers deploy, and U.S. leaders say any American involvement in a multinational peacekeeping force is contingent on Taylor first leaving the country. Taylor last month agreed to accept an offer of asylum in Nigeria, but he has remained vague about when he will actually take it up. In a New York Times interview published on Wednesday, the Liberian leader suggested he would depart within ten days, but aides were quick to say they don't expect Taylor to leave until peacekeepers are on the ground. "The president has definitely agreed to go to Nigeria," Defence Minister Daniel Chea told the Associated Press. "But he is not going to go under these circumstances."

American officials will hold talks in Freetown Thursday with representatives of the West African group ECOWAS on ways the U.S. can support regional peacekeeping efforts in Liberia, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters in Washington on Wednesday. "The West Africans will have another meeting tomorrow in Freetown, Sierra Leone, with the commander of the ECOWAS forces, the Nigerian who is going to command the vanguard of the ECOWAS forces, which will be two Nigerian battalions," he said. "The United States will be there. The U.N. will be there as well, which is important for coordination, in terms of what's going on in West Africa." Boucher called on LURD leader Sekou Conneh to stop the rebel offensive and to observe a ceasefire signed by the warring parties in Accra last month. The U.S. has been under heavy pressure to participate in a multinational peacekeeping effort in Liberia, but Boucher said no decision had yet been made as to what role the U.S. would play. "The president will decide at the appropriate time exactly how the U.S. will support this, whether it's equipment, supplies, logistics, communication or troops," he said.

Nigerian Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant-General Martin Luther Agwai will arrive in Sierra Leone Thursday to address troops of NIBATT 15, the Nigerian 15th Battalion, which has been tapped for peacekeeping duties in Liberia, UNAMSIL spokesman Patrick Coker told the Sierra Leone Web late Wednesday. Agwai served as UNAMSIL's deputy force commander until last November, when he left for New York to take over the post of Military Advisor in the U.N.'s Department of Peacekeeping Operations. He was named to head Nigeria's army in June. NIBATT 15, which is deployed in the northern town of Makeni, numbers 774 troops. Coker said a second proposed Nigerian battalion for peacekeeping duties in Liberia likely would not come from UNAMSIL.

22 July: Foday Sankoh will remain in the custody of Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal after a Special Court judge ruled on Tuesday against a defence motion for a stay of proceedings against the former RUF rebel leader on the grounds that he is medically unfit to stand trial. In a hearing Tuesday at the Special Court's new temporary courthouse in Freetown, Judge Benjamin Itoe (left) declined to halt the proceedings until Sankoh had undergone a complete psychiatric and physiological examination to determine conclusively is health status – something which cannot be done in Sierra Leone. A psychiatrist who examined Sankoh for the court last March described him as "catatonic," but told the court he was unable to make a complete diagnosis or to determine whether Sankoh was competent to stand trial. Court officials have said they want to send Sankoh to a third country for a medical assessment and treatment. To date, however, no country has been willing to accept him, even for short-term care. Judge Itoe also rejected defence claims that Sankoh was being subjected to inhuman and degrading conditions, Radio France International (RFI) reported. "The judge maintained that even though Sankoh was unable to feed himself, he was being fed, and he was also placed in diapers which were changed when soiled," RFI said. The also rejected a bail application by lawyers for former AFRC junta commander Alex Tamba Brima on the grounds that he was likely to flee, as well as a writ of habeas corpus which asserted that his detention was illegal. Brima (lower left) was flown in from the court's temporary detention centre on Bonthe Island for the hearing. Sankoh, who is being held at Choithram Hospital in Freetown, was not present.

A lack of donor support is threatening efforts to rehabilitate thousands of West African former child soldiers and reintegrate them into their communities, UNICEF said on Tuesday. According to the Associated Press, the agency said that unless it received $1.4 million immediately and $2.5 million in the near future, it will be forced to halt an education programme that is helping some 7,000 former child fighters in Sierra Leone. Abandoning the programme, UNICEF director Carol Bellamy said, would mean "breaking the promise of peace for these children." Besides the child soldiers, UNICEF said the programme facing elimination also educates a further 90,000 young people. "Thousands of young minds once engaged by fighting have been re-engaged by training programs that promise a future," said Aboubacry Tall, UNICEF's representative in Sierra Leone. "We are now going to have to close these courses less than halfway through. We will have thousands of youth on the streets – many of whom have toted guns – who have had a taste of success in school and to whom we are handing the bitter pill of failure." UNICEF said it was concerned that the funding shortfall comes as the use of child soldiers has increased in other African conflicts, including Liberia, Burundi, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Meanwhile, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Tetsuko Kuroyanagi ended a five-day visit to Sierra Leone Monday in a bid to reinforce Sierra Leone's urgent need for recovery and reconstruction on the world's agenda. According to a UNICEF statement, the Japanese television personality and author had been expected to meet with government officials and to tour UNICEF projects in Koidu, Makeni and Freetown. Kuroyanagi was also due to travel to the town of Bandajuma, to see for herself the plight of thousands of Liberian refugees.

Fighting for the Liberian capital Monrovia continued for a fifth day Tuesday as West African defence chiefs met in Dakar to finalise plans for the composition and deployment of an ECOWAS peacekeeping force to separate government forces and LURD rebels, the Associated Press reported. In Brussels, the European Union (EU) said Tuesday it was ready to help support such a force, but added that no nation was likely to send peacekeepers to the beleaguered city until there was a peace agreement to supervise. Aid agencies and hospitals have put the death toll from Monday's bloody assault on the city at over 90, while the country's defence minister claimed it was well over 600. Neither figure could be independently verified. Speaking in Dakar, Nigerian Colonel Chukwuemeka Onwuamaegbu said no final decision had been made, but one option might be to divert a Nigerian infantry battalion serving with the U.N. peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone. Another possibility, he said, would be to deploy a Nigeria-based contingent. In Washington, President George W. Bush said he still had made no decision on whether to send American troops to Liberia as part of a multinational peacekeeping force, but a White House spokesman said three ships with 2,000 Marines and 2,500 sailors aboard had been moved toward the Mediterranean awaiting orders as to whether they should proceed to the West African country. Bush has insisted, however, that any U.S. participation was conditional on the departure of Liberian President Charles Taylor. Taylor last month accepted an offer of asylum in Nigeria which would shield him from war crimes charges in Sierra Leone. The Liberian says he won't leave, however, until  a substantial number of peacekeepers have been deployed in his country. And in an interview Monday with the Associated Press, Taylor suggested he had other conditions as well. "I have written (President Bush) a letter outlining to him certain things that are necessary for me to step down and certain things that are necessary for me to leave the country," Taylor said. Meanwhile, a rebel negotiator at peace talks in Accra said LURD forces had been ordered to stop fighting, but said the group had rejected an ECOWAS-sponsored peace plan which reportedly would have barred leaders of the country's warring factions from a transitional government.

21 July: Aid workers warned Monday of an imminent humanitarian catastrophe in the Liberian capital Monrovia, where thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees and tens of thousands of displaced Liberians have been uprooted by fighting between loyalist forces and LURD rebels who are battling to enter the city. "Now the fighting is spreading and (civilians) are fleeing basically nowhere. There is no shelter, no food, no water," Muktar Farah of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told Reuters. "If fighting continues for two days this will be a humanitarian catastrophe." 

18 July: The United Nations Security Council approved a plan Friday which would see the complete withdrawal of United Nations peacekeepers from Sierra Leone by December 2004 – five years after they were first deployed. The "modified status quo" options adopted by the council was one of three alternatives proposed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and calls for troop reductions to be accomplished in four stages. Other options would have accelerated or delayed the final pullout by six months. The Council, in a unanimous resolution, welcomed the secretary-general's intention to submit additional recommendations in early 2004 regarding a residual United Nations presence. The Council also decided to monitor key benchmarks for the drawdown, and asked that Annan report to it at the end of each phase and at regular intervals to note progress and to make any recommendations regarding subsequent phases of withdrawal.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) is worried that renewed fighting near the Liberian capital, Monrovia, will affect the emergency evacuation of Sierra Leonean refugees from the city. As negotiators at peace talks in Accra considered a proposal for a transitional government which would exclude members of the country's warring factions, pro-government troops and LURD rebels clashed Wednesday at Klay Junction, 30 miles north of Monrovia, and the sound of artillery fire could be heard in the capital on Thursday. On Friday, the Liberian government said the rebels had advanced to within 16 miles of the city. A UNHCR spokesman in Geneva said the fighting had caused panic and provoked more residents to flee toward the city centre, where large numbers of displaced persons are already sheltering. They include thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees who had been living in four camps near Monrovia until fighting first broke out in early June. Meanwhile, the UNHCR-chartered ship MV Overbeck completed its fourth voyage Thursday and evacuated 299 more refugees to Freetown. Since the exercise began on July 4, the agency has helped nearly 1,250 Sierra Leoneans to return home.

Sierra Leone has joined the growing number of African nations to condemn Tuesday's military coup in the oil rich island nation of Sao Tome and Principe, the Associated Press reported. "Any attempt to unseat a democratically elected government through a coup d'etat is an awful and a retrograde step," presidential spokesman Kanji Daramy was quoted as saying.

17 July: A judge for Sierra Leone's war crimes court in Bonthe heard arguments this week by counsel for Foday Sankoh (pictured right) in support of an Application for Stay of Proceedings against the former rebel leader. The application to halt the court proceedings against Sankoh was filed on April 24, after a medical examination raised questions as to whether the former RUF chieftain was competent to stand trial. The proceedings will reconvene on Tuesday, with the court to sit for the first time in Freetown. Judge Benjamin Itoe will also consider an Application for Bail and a Writ of Habeas Corpus filed on behalf of former AFRC commander Alex Tamba Brima (left). Both men are accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. Meanwhile, Special Court President Geoffrey Robertson, in an apparent reference to Liberian President Charles Taylor, has asked the international community for assistance in bringing indicted war criminals to justice. Speaking in the Italian Capital on the fifth anniversary of the Rome Statute which set up the International Criminal Court (ICC), Robertson urged cooperation between the two institutions to end impunity for war crimes. “At a time when we are having difficulties arresting indictees and transferring prisoners, I hope we can work together to secure the cooperation of states," he said.

The African Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $1.76 million grant to fund studies on the rehabilitation of the Freetown-Lungi and the Bandajuma to Mano River Bridge roads in Sierra Leone. According to an ADB statement, the roads form part of the Trans-West-African Coastal Highway, linking Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. "In their current state, the roads are a bottleneck in the regional network, negatively impacting on regional trade and socio-economic integration," the statement said. The money be used to determine the technical feasibility and economic viability of the reconstruction and to perform environmental and social impact assessments, and to prepare detailed engineering designs, cost estimates and tender documents. 

16 July: Vice President Solomon Berewa told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission this week that efforts were made to restrain militants who took revenge on supporters of the ousted AFRC junta following the restoration of the civilian government, the BBC reported. Scores of people were killed by pro-government mobs following the return from exile of President Kabbah and his government in March 1998.  Berewa, who as Minister of Justice and Attorney-General prosecuted junta members and alleged collaborators, insisted that "those who toppled the government as well as their collaborators faced the due process of the law," the BBC said.

15 July: 100 American soldiers arrived in the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown Sunday to back up a U.S. assessment team in Liberia. The soldiers, deployed from the 786 Security Forces Squadron, arrived aboard a C-130 transport plane from Sembach Air Base in Germany. The contingent is equipped with three HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, which were sent aboard a C-5 transport from the U.S. Naval Air Station in Keflavik, Iceland, spokesperson Captain Kristi Beckman told the Sierra Leone Web. "Basically we are here to provide personnel recovery and emergency evacuation capability" for the team in Liberia, Beckman told reporters in Freetown. Meanwhile, U.S. President George Bush, under international pressure to participate in a multinational peacekeeping force in Liberia, suggested Monday he might be prepared to send troops, but that any U.S. deployment in that country would be of limited size and duration. Bush said he was awaiting reports from two assessment teams sent to Liberia last week to look into the military situation and the country's humanitarian needs before making a final decision. "It may require troops. We don't know how many yet," he said following a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, adding: "It's hard for me to make a determination until I see all the facts."

Petroleum companies from Spain, Nigeria and the United States have been awarded concessions to explore for oil in Sierra Leone's coastal waters, the government said in a statement. Three companies submitted bids to look for oil on blocks of offshore territory during the 2002/2003 International Petroleum Bid Round, which closed on May 30. The Bid Evaluation Committee awarded Block 5 to Oranto Petroleum of Nigeria, Blocks 6 and 7 to Repsol YPF of Spain, and Block 4 to # 8 Investments Inc. of the United States. The ten-member committee was chaired by Vice President Solomon Berewa and included representatives of the government and opposition, along with representatives from business, education, and civil society groups.

Sierra Leonean refugees arriving in the Sierra Leonean capital from Monrovia have spoken of harassment by government soldiers, the UNHCR said on Tuesday. So far, more than 950 Sierra Leoneans have been evacuated from Monrovia since an emergency repatriation operation by sea started on July 4. According to the UNHCR, the returnees say that most of the estimated 15,000 Sierra Leoneans living around the Liberian capital, especially those in the camps, are desperate to return home in the face of the deteriorating security situation there. "Returnees spoke of night attacks on the camps by government soldiers," the UNHCR said. "Significant numbers of refugees who fear looters, harassment and assault by fighters are now leaving the camps for other destinations in and around the Liberian capital. Many of the returnees said they had lost property to government soldiers, particularly those manning checkpoints or along the streets of Monrovia." Returnees who spoke to UNHCR staff upon their arrival in Freetown on Monday said their already difficult situation in Liberia worsened after the announcement of the war crimes indictment against President Charles Taylor, who subsequently made public statements against Sierra Leoneans in the country. Meanwhile, UNHCR's national staff in Monrovia has continued to register Sierra Leonean refugees for the journey home. Limited assistance is being provided in the refugee camps. A food distribution to several thousand refugees at Samukai Camp, one of the four refugee camps on the outskirts of Monrovia, was completed on Friday. Similar aid is being sent to refugees at Banjor Camp.

The United States will contribute $272 million this fiscal year to help Sierra Leone recover from a decade of civil war, with three quarters of the money earmarked for school and hospital construction, police training, humanitarian assistance, economic development and United Nations peacekeeping operations, the U.S. Embassy said on Tuesday. The remaining $63 million was contributed in the form of debt relief. More than half of the money went to support United Nations peacekeeping efforts. Other funds were channelled through United Nations agencies, governmental and non-governmental organisations working to enhance Sierra Leone's stability and to improve long-term prospects for peaceful development. 

14 July: Members of the United Nations Security Council agreed Monday to "respond quickly" to Secretary-General Kofi Annan's recent proposal for a modified, four-stage reduction in the size of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone, according to Council President Inocencio F. Arias of Spain. Under the proposal, the current pace of the military drawdown would be modified to take into account the evolving security situation and efforts to strengthen the country's security sector, and would look to complete the withdrawal by December 2004. Arias said Annan had proposed three options: an "accelerated withdrawal" which would see all troops leaving the country by June 2004; a "delayed withdrawal" which called for a sector-by-sector four-stage drawdown to be completed by June 2005, and a "modified status quo" option, which the Security Council adopted Monday as the best way forward. Ambassador Arias also called on U.N. member states to consider making new or additional contributions to Sierra Leone's U.N.-backed Special Court, which is mandated to prosecute those deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed during the country's civil war.

The Sierra Leone government has begun paying benefits to the families of soldiers who were killed during the country's decade-long civil war, the BBC reported on Monday. While the authorities have not yet ascertained the exact number of soldiers killed in the conflict, about 1,500 relatives of those already verified have begun lining up at army headquarters in Freetown to receive their payment. Lieutenant-Colonel Dominic Sowa, the officer in charge of the payment exercise, told the BBC the government had set aside Le 4.2 billion (about $1.8 million) to compensate the dead soldiers' relatives. "We are targeting a huge number of them but officially we have got about 1,553 registered that we are about to pay in this exercise," Sowa said. "Officially it will last up to Tuesday but the payment is still open to those entitled even if they come after that."

The U.S. military's European Command has sent 100 troops to Sierra Leone and Senegal to provide backup for a team assessing humanitarian needs in Liberia, a spokesman said on Monday. According to the Associated Press, the troops arrived in the two countries late Sunday, with three helicopters and a C-130 transport plane to provide logistics for the 15 or so specialists already in Liberia. "They will serve for personal recovery and emergency evacuation for the humanitarian team, or other aviation requirements as needed," said Major Bill Bigelow, a spokesman at EUCOM headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.

11 July: President Charles Taylor of Liberia denounced war crimes charges against him Thursday as "politically motivated," and suggested that the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone was in fact merely a local tribunal without the authority to prosecute him. "Some African president’s supposed to go next door where some little court in Sierra Leone is supposed to indict a Liberian president under Sierra Leonean judges, under laws passed by the Sierra Leonean parliament? And Liberians are supposed to clap about it?" Taylor told BBC West Africa correspondent Paul Welsh. "That’s a recipe for conflict between two countries, and I think people ought to be smart about it and be very careful about how they look at this." Taylor denied allegations he supported Sierra Leone's brutal RUF rebels during the country's decade-long civil war, and he insisted he was innocent of the charges against him. "You can indict a house rat," he said. "A country with a budget of $60 million can’t (supply the RUF). Let’s forget all of the things you know...These things can all be written. They are scripts. Let’s not deal with that." Taylor said he had no regrets about igniting a civil war in Liberia which claimed, according to some estimates, 200,000 lives. Instead, he blamed his and his country's problems on Britain. "(Liberia) is in a mess and Britain helped to create the mess," he said. "I have British arms that I seized here from the rebels. This mess was created by a self-fulfilling prophecy. They wrote the script and they wanted to see it work, and they made it work. And so the government has been punished. I have been punished. Everything has been done to make sure that that self-fulfilling prophecy worked." Taylor accepted an offer last weekend to step down as president and go into exile in Nigeria, but he says he wants to see a U.S.-led multinational peacekeeping force deployed in his country before he leaves. So far, no decision has been made in Washington on whether the U.S. will send troops to Liberia, but U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday that any U.S. role would likely be "very limited in duration and scope" and aimed primarily at supporting an ECOWAS peacekeeping force. In several interviews earlier this week, Taylor suggested that his exile in Nigeria would only be temporary, and that he planned to return to Liberia and play a political role. On Thursday, however, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo warned that his asylum offer was contingent on Taylor staying out of Liberian politics. In Thursday's BBC interview, the Liberian leader was more circumspect in contemplating his future. "God has permitted me to live and not die," he said. "Whatever he has for me in the future is still in his hands. I believe in a way I may be chastised by God, and all I’m going to wait for now is the word of God. I do not know what my future will be, but what I do know is that it is in God’s hands." Meanwhile, Ghanaian President John Kufuor told reporters Friday that the offer of asylum in Nigeria was a compromise to save the lives of ordinary Liberians, but it did not give Taylor impunity for life. "The impunity principle is an eternal principle. After all, how long did it take the war criminals of World War II to get arrested and prosecuted?" said Kufuor, who is the current chairman of ECOWAS. "If it is found that anybody committed genocide any time I'm sure that the international legal system could come into operation against such a person." But Kufuor denied Taylor would face problems as soon as he arrived in Nigeria. "I am not saying anything like that," he said. "I am just saying that the possibility of an offender against humanity being brought to book is always there and it's not something that rots."

10 July: A second group of 360 Sierra Leonean refugees, most of them women and children, have arrived in Freetown after a stormy sea voyage from the Liberian capital Monrovia. "Many looked exhausted as a result of the long sea journey, but certainly excited to return home," said BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana, who met the returnees at the quay. Under a heavy downpour, Sierra Leonean police officials screened the refugees to make sure no Liberian combatants were among them, while officials from Child Protection Agency Corporation International (COOPI) were on hand to take in charge unaccompanied children. An estimated 15,000 Sierra Leonean refugees are believed to be in the Monrovia area, and twice that number total in Liberia. More than 5,000 had registered to return home before fighting broke out last month around Liberia's capital. "We had a total of 32,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia and we know that 5,000 of those have registered for return as soon as possible," said Maggie Heraty, the UNHCR's Senior Logistics Officer. "Local staff who are still in Monrovia are trying to trace them all, and if all 5,000 still want to come back that would take us about another two months of the shipping operation." The returnees are provided with food rations and other allowances to help them get on their feet once they have been returned to their towns and villages. At a Tuesday press briefing in Geneva, a UNHCR spokesman said most of the first group of 300 returnees who arrived last weekend were transported to their home areas in Kailahun and Pujehun Districts on Monday after spending the night at the transit centre in Jui, outside of Freetown.

Nigeria will shield President Charles Taylor from war crimes charges in Sierra Leone if he takes up an asylum offer, but only if he stays out of Liberian politics, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said on Wednesday. Among the conditions for Taylor to receive asylum are "that he will not participate in the politics of his country from Nigeria, and will remain quiet, and remain alive in Nigeria for as long as God wants him to be alive," Obasanjo told CNN in Maputo, Mozambique, where he is attending the African Union summit. Obasanjo's comments followed interviews with the BBC, Associated Press and CNN in which the Liberian leader said he intended to remain engaged with Liberian politics while in exile, and that he expected to return to Liberia after "resting and relaxing." While in Nigeria, Taylor will be "a free man to choose where else he goes. But he cannot stay in Nigeria playing politics," Obasanjo said. And while the Nigerian leader said he believed Taylor should face trial if he were found to have committed war crimes in either his own or another country, he also made it clear that Nigeria would not hand him over to the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone. "We have a condition precedent before we take action, and international law and the international community understands conditions." In Monrovia Thursday, Taylor said he would step aside, but only after peacekeeping troops had been deployed in order to prevent chaos. "Everyone has agreed there’s got to be a peaceful transfer of power," he said. "There’s got to be what I have termed ‘soft landing’ in Liberia, and everyone agrees. I understand that troops are supposed to be here anytime soon. As soon as they get here basic things will be done and then I can step aside."

9 July: ECOWAS, under pressure to act quickly to restore peace in Liberia, has reportedly scaled back by two thirds a proposed 3,000-member West African peacekeeping force, and is contemplating instead sending a contingent of 1,000 soldiers to the war-torn country within the next two weeks, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday. The West African contingent could eventually grow to 3,000 troops, and a full international force could total 6,000, officials were quoted as saying. Earlier, two unnamed West African diplomats said ECOWAS had elected to mobilise 1,250 soldiers after determining that the original figure of 3,000 would be too difficult for some of its impoverished member states to meet. According to the diplomats, Senegal, Mali and Ghana were offering 250 soldiers apiece, while Nigeria had proposed sending 500 troops. A request for the United States to send 2,000 soldiers had been cut back to 1,500, the report said. Meanwhile, a spokesman for President Charles Taylor said Wednesday the beleaguered Liberian leader had decided not to attend this week's African Union Summit in Maputo, Mozambique because of the turmoil in Liberia and because of his indictment for war crimes by the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. "He would have loved to go but he cannot go in face of the political situation prevailing in the country and his indictment," spokesman Vaani Passawe told the AFP. Taylor said Sunday he had accepted an offer of asylum from Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, but said he wanted to wait until a multinational peacekeeping force had been deployed in his country. Passawe said that if Taylor left for Maputo now, "people will feel he has gone for good."

8 July: Sierra Leone for a third straight year ranks at the bottom of the U.N.'s Human Development Index, an indication of the relative quality of life as rated in a number of categories from poverty eradication and education to maternal health. In its Human Development Report for 2003, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) used data from 2001 – the most recent available – to rank 175 of the 191 U.N. member states on their progress towards meeting the world body'sMillennium Development Goals. Under this programme, all member states have pledged to meet by 2015 certain benchmarks in working to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, provide their citizens with universal primary education, promote gender equality for women and improve maternal health, reduce child mortality, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development. But with just twelve years to go, the report said, 59 countries will not achieve the goals without urgent action. In 31 of these countries, progress towards the goals has stalled or even reversed. Leading the list are Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Australia and the Netherlands. The bottom 25 countries are all from sub-Saharan Africa. Of Sierra Leone's neighbours, Guinea was ranked in 157th place, while war-ravaged Liberia, which might have been expected to trail Sierra Leone, was not rated. 

A U.N.-chartered transport ship, the MV Overbeck, arrived in Freetown Tuesday morning with 300 Sierra Leonean refugees rescued from the war-torn Liberian capital Monrovia. As the ship was waiting to dock, aid workers were already preparing for the Overbeck's second voyage. 366 refugees are registered for that evacuation, most of them residents of Samukai Camp, one of four camps ringing Monrovia. Samukai, with 3,800 inhabitants, was not affected by the recent fighting, but many camp residents are anxious to return home to Sierra Leone, a UNHCR spokesman said. The ship is expected to return to Freetown on Thursday. In June there were an estimated 15,000 Sierra Leonean refugees around Monrovia, and more than a third of them had registered for repatriation. Many of the refugees were forced to flee camps last month to escape fighting between government forces and rebels, and they remain scattered, with many still camped in schools and other buildings. The VOA camp, which was among the hardest hit, remains deserted, although there are indications that small groups of refugees have begun to return. Aid workers have been unable to resume work there, and the spokesman said there was concern for their safety. "There are fears that distribution of aid to the small groups of refugees reportedly returning to VOA will be a magnet for militia groups," he said.

Oluyemi Adeniji, the former ranking United Nations official in Sierra Leone, was sworn in Tuesday as Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs. Before being appointed in November 1999 to succeed Francis Okelo as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative for Sierra Leone, Adeniji spent more than three decades as a career Nigerian diplomat, doing stints in Washington, Freetown, and Accra, and serving as Ambassador to Austria, Switzerland and France. He was appointed Director-General of Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1991, and remained there until he retired in 1994. He is considered to be an expert on the subject of disarmament and conflict resolution, and has authored several publications on both subjects. In 1998 Annan appointed Adeniji to be his Special Representative for the Central African Republic. Adeniji was educated at the Ijebu-Ode Grammar School, the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, and the University College, Ibadan and London University.

An offer of exile in Nigeria for Liberian President Charles Taylor does not include immunity from prosecution by Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal, Nigeria's High Commissioner in London said on Tuesday. "Nigeria is not in the business of aiding and abetting criminals," Dr Christopher Kolade told the BBC. "What President Obasanjo has offered to President Taylor is an invitation to come to Nigeria in order to get out of the way of whatever is happening in Liberia, and give room for other actions to take place which would not take place if he remained in the country." Kolade said his country "is very much a supporter of international law and accountability" and that if any crimes had been committed, Nigeria would not stand in the way of bringing the criminals to justice. "It is not Nigeria’s intention to protect (Taylor) against any of the charges that stand against him," he said. "Now what Charles Taylor’s understanding is, is quite another matter. I don’t think that we can speak for the way he perceives things or the way he intends to manage his own affairs from here on in." Taylor's understanding certainly seems to be different. In a BBC interview late Monday, Taylor said he saw a continued role for himself in his National Patriotic Party, and he suggested he would be back. "I would never abandon (my supporters), although for a period of time I will be out resting and relaxing," he said. "I will be back." In a separate interview with the Associated Press, the Liberian leader asserted that the war crimes charges were part of an international conspiracy to destroy him – but he didn't say who he thought was behind the plot. "This demonization of Charles Taylor has got everyone saying he's a bad guy," Taylor said. "I would like to say, 'He's really getting screwed'."

U.S. President George W. Bush, who began a five-nation African tour in Senegal this week, met in Dakar Tuesday with eight West African leaders, including President Kabbah. Following a meeting with Senegalese President Wade, Bush met a group of regional leaders which included President Kabbah, current ECOWAS President John Kufuor of Ghana, Yahya Jammeh of Gambia, Mathieu Kerekou of Benin, Pedro Pires of Cape Verde,  Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali, and Mamadou Tandja of Niger. At a press conference following the meeting, Bush said he had "a good discussion about Liberia" with his West African counterparts, and that the United States was prepared to cooperate with ECOWAS in restoring peace to Liberia – but that no decision had been made on what form help might take. "We're in the process of determining what is necessary to maintain the ceasefire and to allow for a peaceful transfer of power. We're working very closely with ECOWAS," he said. "I assured (President Kufuor) we'll participate in the process. And we're now in the process of determining what that means."

Two Pennsylvania-based groups, the Cotton Tree Association of Sierra Leone, Pittsburgh and Brothers Brother Foundation, announced last week they had sent nearly $300,000 worth of donated textbooks and educational supplies to Sierra Leone. According to a statement by Brother's Brother, the shipment is being targeted directly toward educational projects for refugees. The container will be received in Sierra Leone by the Cotton Tree Association's Freetown chapter, which was opened last December. Funds to help finance the shipment were raised at the Cotton Tree Association's annual fundraiser in April.

British-born welterweight boxer Tony Cesay, who competed for Sierra Leone in last year's Commonwealth Games to honour the country of his parents' birth, was eliminated in the first round of the Senior World Boxing Championships in Bangkok, Thailand by Bulgarian boxer Dimitar Panayotov. Cesay, again representing Sierra Leone, competed in the Light Welterweight (64 kg.) division.

7 July: An ECOWAS mission to chart the locations and armaments of Liberia's warring factions hopes to leave for Liberia from Kenema on Wednesday, the leader of the Joint Verification Team (JVT) said on Monday. The team, which consists of two representatives from each of the warring groups, along with representatives from the U.N., the African Union and the International Contact Group for Liberia, was originally scheduled to go to Liberia two weeks ago. The mission was delayed, however, when the factions failed to disclose their positions and combat equipment within 72 hours as stipulated under the terms of a ceasefire agreement, and by a subsequent resumption in hostilities. In an interview with Freetown-based Radio UNAMSIL, JVT leader Lieutenant-Colonel Ben Kusi said his team would set up their base in eastern Sierra Leone on Tuesday, and look to start its mission on Wednesday. "Because of logistics constraint and other matters, we hope to operate from Kenema and move in and out of Liberia on a daily basis," Kusi said. Accommodations, a helicopter, and expertise are being provided by the U.N. peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone for what Kusi said he expected would be a mission lasting between seven and nine days. Danger to the inspectors should be minimal, he said, because each of the warring factions had given guarantees for the team's safety in their areas. "The degree of danger depends on how much control the various leaderships have over their men on the ground, and how much information has been passed down the line for them to know about the JVT and to know why the JVT is there," he said. Kusi said he expected Liberian government forces and the country's two rebel groups, LURD and MODEL, to cooperate with the mission. "I think everybody must be tired of this war," he said. "They must embrace the peace efforts being made by the sub-region so that we can put the guns down and make them silent once and for all."

Liberian President Charles Taylor said Monday he was ready to step down and accept asylum in Nigeria, but not before an international peacekeeping force was deployed in his country, the Associated Press reported. "When they arrive, bingo, there's an exit," he said. "I would be out of here in a jiffy." But unnamed U.N. diplomats told Reuters that Taylor wanted to stay on until mid-August to clear up his affairs. "He said he needed 45 days to get his life and affairs in order," an envoy was quoted as saying. Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who met with Taylor on Sunday, would not say when Taylor was expected to leave, but that "we believe that it will not take place in the near future." Meanwhile, a spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday that Annan welcomed Taylor's decision to resign "and leave Liberia in the interest of peace in his country." The statement made no mention of Taylor's indictment on war crimes charges by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, but warned the warring parties in Liberia that they "would be held individually and collectively accountable for the perpetration of gross human rights violations and war crimes." Court prosecutors have vowed to pursue the charges against Taylor even if he goes into exile. But if prosecutors were expecting strong public support from United Nations officials, the response thus far has been lukewarm. Last week the leader of a Security Council mission visiting West Africa, British Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock, reportedly floated the idea of asylum for Taylor in Nigeria. The mission visited the Special Court premises on Friday, but a press release following the meeting with court officials said only that the diplomats had praised the court's progress and had voiced support for its work. Annan's spokesperson, Hua Jiang, told reporters that "what’s going to happen to the indictment will be between the Nigerian government and the court."  "The U.N. will not have any right or mandate to interfere in this matter," she said. "However, as the secretary-general expressed before, the U.N. has expressed before, we hope that Taylor will be brought into the custody of the court and tried according to the law."

REACTION to an offer of Nigerian asylum to President Charles Taylor of Liberia, which would prevent him from being prosecuted for war crimes by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. TOM PERRIELLO, ACTING SPOKESMAN FOR THE SPECIAL COURT PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE: "We have indicted Mr. Taylor, and he remains an indicted war criminal. We will do what we can to bring him to account for that and hope he will come before the court and have a chance to defence these charges in a court of law...It is important to note that the Special Court was set up by the international community on the request of the Security Council. And we believe it’s not the burden of any particular country to deal with this question, but of the international community which created the Special Court to try those who bear the greatest responsibility for atrocities that occurred here." HUA JIANG, DEPUTY SPOKESPERSON FOR U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL KOFI ANNAN: "What’s going to happen to the indictment will be between the Nigerian government and the court. The U.N. will not have any right or mandate to interfere in this matter. However, as the secretary-general expressed before, the U.N. has expressed before, we hope that Taylor will be brought into the custody of the court and tried according to the law." AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: "International law requires that those who are alleged to have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and other breaches of international law must be brought to justice...Rather than displaying contempt for international law and for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Nigeria and other ECOWAS states should show unbending commitment to ensuring that the Liberian people – who have suffered so terribly – see those responsible for crimes against them held to account." REFUGEES INTERNATIONAL: "The international community must insist that he stand trial." PARTNERSHIP AFRICA CANADA: "Partnership Africa Canada today condemned the amnesty arrangement worked out between Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Liberian President Charles Taylor, and called for immediate action on Liberia by the U.N. Security Council and the United States...Under no circumstances must an amnesty for Charles Taylor be part of the deal. This would be a travesty of justice that would resound through Africa for a generation. It would demonstrate to Liberians and others that war, murder, theft and pillage pay, and it would saddle any effort to build a long-lasting peace and democracy in Liberia with a crippling liability."

6 July: Gabon defeated Sierra Leone 2-0 in Libreville Saturday, ending the Leone Stars' hopes of advancing to the African Nations Cup finals. Weekend Results: (Group 1) Angola 5, Malawi 1 [Nigeria advances]. (Group 2) Niger 1, Liberia 0; Guinea 3, Ethiopia 0 [Guinea advances]. (Group 3) Benin 3, Zambia 0 [Benin advances]. (Group 4) Republic of Congo 0, Mozambique 0 [Burkina Faso advances]. (Group 5) Mauritania 0, Togo 0. [Kenya advances]. (Group 6) Seychelles 0, Mali 2; Zimbabwe 2, Eritrea 0. [Mali advances]. (Group 7) Gabon 2, Sierra Leone 0; Equatorial Guinea 0, Morocco 1 [Morocco advances]. (Group 8) Lesotho 1, Gambia 0 [Senegal advances]. (Group 9) Libya 6, Swaziland 2; Botswana 0, Democratic Republic of Congo 0. [Democratic Republic of Congo advances]. (Group 10) Madagascar 0, Mauritius 0. [Egypt advances]. (Group 11) Burundi 0, South Africa 2 [South Africa advances]. (Group 12) Chad 0, Algeria 0 [Algeria advances]. (Group 13) Rwanda 1, Ghana 0 [Rwanda advances].

Liberia's embattled president said Sunday he had accepted an offer of asylum from Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, but Charles Taylor didn't say when he intended to take it up, news services reported. The two men met at Monrovia's Roberts International Airport, where Obasanjo delivered the asylum offer in person. "I thank my big brother for coming," Taylor said. "He has extended an invitation and we have accepted an invitation." But the Liberian leader told reporters it was "not unreasonable to request that there be an orderly exit from power" in order to prevent chaos and disruption in his country. His sentiments were echoed by Obasanjo. "We believe the exit should not take place in confusion...in a way that will lead to more bloodshed," he said. "We believe the transition should be orderly and peaceful." Last week Taylor reportedly turned down a Nigerian asylum offer amid fears he could be turned over the the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which indicted him in March for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. Court prosecutors insist they will continue to pursue the charges even if Taylor is given asylum, but Obasanjo suggested that extraditing Taylor was not in the cards. "The condition is that Nigeria and I will not be harassed by anybody for inviting President Taylor to Nigeria," the Reuters news agency quoted him as saying. Asked whether that meant the charges must be dropped, Obasanjo said he was "not insisting on anything," but he repeated that he would not be harassed. 

5 July: Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo is due to meet with President Charles Taylor at Roberts International Airport in Monrovia Sunday, amid reports that the Liberian leader has been offered temporary asylum in Nigeria, the Reuters news agency reported. An unnamed Nigerian official was quoted as saying Taylor had already accepted the offer of Nigerian asylum, but a Liberian military official said he was also considering seeking refuge in South Africa or Taiwan. The Associated Press quoted Nigerian authorities as saying they would be willing to harbor Taylor temporarily until he goes into permanent exile in a third country. Meanwhile, ECOWAS Chiefs of Defence Staff said Friday that 3,000 West African peacekeepers should join a proposed 5,000-strong multinational force which they hope will be led by the United States. Additional contingents, they say, could come from South Africa and Morocco. U.S. officials have so far made no decision on sending troops, but an American military spokesman said Friday his country was sending a team of between ten and fifteen military experts to assess what role the U.S. should play in Liberia. ECOWAS Executive-Secretary Mohamed Ibn Chambas, in Johannesburg for talks with the South African authorities, said this was an important step in the right direction. "A mission like this needs to be prepared very adequately and properly," he told Radio France International. "We welcome that mission. They’ll be meeting with our Defence Chiefs of Staff and other technical people to carefully plot this mission which must succeed, because I believe this is an opportunity to deal with the Liberian problem fundamentally. The force needs an arrowhead, and the United States can provide that."

4 July: Under intense international pressure, Liberian President Charles Taylor said Friday he was willing to step down, but that he wants an international peacekeeping force to be deployed in his country before he leaves to avoid "an extremely chaotic" situation. A senior Nigerian official told the Reuters news agency that Taylor had accepted an offer of asylum, and that Nigeria was pressing the Liberian leader to take up the offer this month rather than within 40 days as he was requesting. Taylor did not deny he had accepted the asylum offer, but he said this was not the point. "Leaving to go into a foreign land, into exile, leaving my people that I know I can still be of help to, it is a pill that would be very difficult to swallow," he told a gathering of religious leaders. Taylor said, however, that he wanted a U.S.-led peacekeeping force to be in place before he left. "I welcome and will embrace the presence of American troops in Liberia. I think it will be essential for stability," he said, adding: "I don't understand why the United States government would insist that I be absent before its soldiers arrive." Taylor reportedly rejected a Nigerian asylum offer earlier in the week because he feared he could still be extradited to face war crimes charges before the U.N.-backed Special Court in Freetown. But the leader of a visiting U.N. Security Council mission, British Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock, told journalists on Tuesday he knew of no provision in Nigerian domestic law which would oblige that country to extradite a war crimes suspect at the behest of the court. Both Liberian and Nigerian officials have confirmed there were talks between Taylor and President Obasanjo on the possibility of granting the Liberian leader temporary asylum, but so far it appears no deal has been reached. Taylor "is still in Monrovia. He's not coming immediately, but Nigeria is a friendly country," said Nigerian spokesman Remi Oyo. "There is a possibility he will come." Liberian Information Minister Reginald Goodridge told the BBC there were "high level discussions going on," but that "the issue of amnesty has not been discussed by this government." Court prosecutors who indicted Taylor in March for war crimes and crimes against humanity vowed this week to pursue the charges even if Taylor were granted asylum, and at least one expert suggested that it was international law, not domestic law, which was at issue. "Legally, all countries are obliged to cooperate with the tribunal in Freetown, and with all the decisions that have been taken by the Security Council," Klaus van Walraven of Leiden University's African Studies Centre told Radio France International. "The Nigerians have said merely there is no Nigerian national law which obliges them to hand over any suspect to the tribunal."

3 July: The United Nations rescue ship MV Overbeck battled heavy winds and high seas Thursday as it headed for Monrovia on a mission to rescue thousands of stranded Sierra Leonean refugees sheltering in makeshift camps around the embattled Liberian capital. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said the Overbeck left Freetown late Wednesday and was expected to reach Monrovia early on Friday after a 30-hour voyage. Assuming the fragile ceasefire between government and rebel forces continues to hold, the ship will be able to ferry 300 passengers each voyage, and should make the trip to Freetown every three days. According to the UNHCR, more than a third of the estimated 15,000 Sierra Leonean refugees living around Monrovia have expressed an interest in being evacuated, but the operation is expected to be difficult. The tenuous security situation in Monrovia and the lack of logistical capacity will make the rescue operation one of the most difficult the agency has faced in recent times. During the recent strife in Monrovia, eight UNHCR vehicles were stolen and nine others were put out of commission. Fuel is scarce, and the agency's remaining staff has no money to assist the refugees in reaching the port because the banks are closed. But UNHCR representative Moses Okello said that other organisations, including European Union aid officials and the German group GTZ, were offering to help with the operation. "This is an emergency evacuation," he said. "Given the dire situation in Monrovia, the usual procedures for repatriation cannot be followed."

Sierra Leone's Deputy Defence Minister called Wednesday for an international stabilisation force to end the conflict in Liberia, but he avoided saying whether his government would like to see President Charles Taylor go into exile – or whether the Liberian leader should face war crimes charges before the U.N.-backed Special Court in Freetown. "Whatever will bring peace to the region is what we need in Sierra Leone," Blell told the BBC during a visit to London. "It’s been too much war, too many people have been killed. People want to settle down and start rebuilding their lives. For now, whatever will bring peace in that region and Liberia, I think, would be good for the region and the people of Liberia and Sierra Leone."

Defence chiefs from eleven of the fifteen ECOWAS member states began a two-day emergency meeting in Accra Thursday to discuss the deployment of a multinational peacekeeping force for Liberia. Representatives from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Niger did not show up, but Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande, the commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone, was present for the meeting. The BBC quoted ECOWAS Executive-Secretary Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas as saying the military leaders were looking at a draft proposal which called for the deployment in Liberia of 5,000 soldiers – 2,000 from the United States, along with contingents from South Africa and Morocco. ECOWAS member states would also be expected to contribute troops. The final recommendations would need to be approved by ECOWAS foreign ministers, who are expected to meet shortly. There has been mounting international pressure in recent days for the United States government to lead a multinational peacekeeping force in Liberia, but U.S. authorities have reacted with some ambivalence. On Thursday, however, President George W. Bush suggested his government might be willing to consider a more active role, but he stressed that Liberian President Charles Taylor would have to go. "I haven't made up my mind whether we are going to send a so-called peacekeeping force," he told the Voice of America. "I have made up my mind that there needs to be stability in Liberia. And one of the conditions for a peaceful and stable Liberia is for Mr. Charles Taylor to leave the country."  Bush said the U.S. was working with the United Nations and regional leaders "to facilitate that type of move" and that his demand that Taylor step down was firm. "I'm not going to take 'no' for an answer," he said. "It is not only my voice, it is the voice of a lot of others saying the same thing. It is very important for us to be positive about having a good outcome." Meanwhile, he said, he was waiting for the outcome of the ECOWAS meeting before deciding what action to take. "There was a meeting today with the ECOWAS leadership as to what the nature of a so-called peacekeeping force might look like," he said. "That’s very important information for me, the decision-maker on this issue – to understand what the recommendations might be. I have yet to get those recommendations but I expect I will in the next couple of days."

Britain's sole objective throughout Sierra Leone's long crisis was the restoration of peace and democracy in the country, British High Commission spokesman Derek Smith told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Wednesday. Now, he said, the British government's key post-conflict objective is to help Sierra Leone to rebuild its institutions and infrastructure destroyed during the war. "With strong and democratically accountable institutions, Sierra Leone should never again experience such a terrible time," he said. "We are conscious of the fact that the very heart of Sierra Leonean society has been damaged and hurt by the long crisis." Smith pointed to Britain's support for democratic initiatives and for peace talks. But he said one thing hindered the search for peace. "It took us and others in the international community some years to realise that the RUF was not a wholly indigenous movement," he said. "It was only in the late 1990s that it was fully realised that Charles Taylor was behind the RUF, was using the RUF, and exchanged Sierra Leone diamonds for guns with the RUF leadership...The RUF rebellion continued far beyond its natural life because of the support it received from Taylor – and his allies."

2 July: Two former Kamajor officials have pleaded not guilty to charges of crimes against humanity they are alleged to have committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. Moinina Fofana, the Kamajor Director of War, and Allieu Kondewa, the militia's one time Chief Initiator and High Priest, made their first appearance before Special Court Judge Pierre Boutet in a Bonthe Island courtroom on Tuesday. The two were first detained on May 27 under a court rule which allows suspects to be held for up to a month without being charged. They were charged last week with eight counts of crimes against humanity, including unlawful killings, terrorizing of civilians, looting, and the recruiting of child soldiers. According to the Freetown newspaper Awoko, Kondewa told the judge the charges against him were lies, while Fofana initially refused to enter a plea. Judge Boutet reportedly told the defence he doubted whether the accused understood what was going on. The judge ordered the two to be kept in detention and adjourned the case indefinitely. The court's defence section will now assist the defendants in choosing lawyers.

Liberian President Charles Taylor (pictured left) has rejected an offer to step down and seek safe haven in Nigeria, in part because he fears he could be handed over to the war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone, unnamed U.N. diplomats told the Associated Press in New York. "There are a lot of unanswered questioned here and so Taylor isn't willing to entertain the issue right now," a diplomat was quoted as saying. The U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone indicted Taylor in March for war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged support of Sierra Leone's RUF rebels during that county's brutal civil war. The indictment was kept under seal, and announced on June 4 while Taylor was attending peace talks in Accra. At those talks, Taylor suggested he would be willing to step down if his continued presence was an impediment to peace in Liberia, but later he changed his mind. According to the Associated Press, the offer of safe haven was negotiated with the help of a United Nations Security Council mission currently visiting West Africa. The U.N. delegation met with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo over the weekend. Under the proposed deal, Nigeria wouldn't turn Taylor over to the court even if the indictment stands, West African diplomats were quoted as saying. "(The deal) may not satisfy purists on one side or the other, but we are not just looking at the fate of one man but that of three million people," Ghanaian Foreign Minister Nana Akufo-Addo told the Reuters news agency. A spokesperson for President Obasanjo insisted on Wednesday that no formal request for asylum had been made, but she said Taylor was preparing to send his foreign minister to Abuja "very soon" to brief the Nigerian authorities on the situation in Liberia. "We will want to wait for whatever the message is from the Liberian president to receive whatever proposal he has towards the peaceful resolution of the crisis," Remi Oyo told the BBC. And Oyo hinted that the Nigerian president might be open to a deal. "There is a lot of brotherhood in Africa, and African leaders collaborate and cooperate with each other. Liberia is an important nation in West Africa, and Nigeria being a giant in West Africa is keen to ensure that there is a peaceful resolution of all crises that bedevil our sub-region." At a press conference in Abidjan on Tuesday, British Ambassador and Security Council president Sir Jeremy Greenstock (right), who is leading the U.N. mission, said it was up to Obasanjo to make public any details regarding the offer. But he noted that, to the best of his knowledge, Nigeria had no laws on the books which would require the government to extradite a person at the request of the Special Court. "This is a matter of domestic law now for Nigeria, and Nigeria must make its own choices," he said. "But we hope that whatever choices are made within the region or wherever else, impunity for those who commit gross abuses of human rights in any situation will not be allowed." Liberian Defence Minister Daniel Chea (left), in a statement broadcast on the BBC, said Taylor had not ruled out stepping down, but that any talk of his going into exile was premature. "Exile is one of the things that should not even be mentioned right now," he said. "I think that you first of all have to begin the process. There are other things to look at. President Taylor has always said that everything is on the table, especially when it comes to the process. He genuinely wants peace for the people of Liberia, so everything is on the table. We are not ruling anything out." Meanwhile in Washington, U.S. President George W. Bush said Tuesday that Taylor should leave Liberia. "We are exploring all options as to how to keep the situation peaceful and stable," he told reporters. "One thing needs to happen...Mr. Taylor needs to leave the country." Bush last week called for Taylor to step down. United Nations officials, West African and European leaders, and even Taylor himself have urged the U.S. to lead an international peacekeeping force to Liberia, citing historical ties between the two countries. U.S. officials have not ruled out the possibility, but have so far made no decision. 

Prosecutors for Sierra Leone's Special Court have not been approached about a possible deal which would allow Liberian President Charles Taylor to step down in exchange for immunity from prosecution for war crimes, and would not agree to lift the indictment against him, the acting spokesman for the prosecutor's office said on Wednesday. "The only person who has the authority to drop this indictment would be David Crane, the prosecutor of the Special Court, and he certainly has no intention of doing so," Tom Perriello told the BBC. Perriello said that to drop the indictment would be a violation of the court's mandate, to prosecute those deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed during Sierra Leone's civil war. Letting Taylor off the hook for war crimes, he added, was in the view of prosecutors not the way to promote peace in the sub-region. "We have an individual who has individual criminal responsibility for the violations of international law and he must be held accountable,"  Perriello said. "And we believe that real peace will not come to this region until people are held accountable for these grave violations." In a separate interview with the Reuters news agency, Perriello said the court would continue to pursue Taylor even if he fled into exile. "It does not affect the special mandate because we will continue to pursue the indictment of Charles Taylor until the court gets hold of him," he said. If Taylor did seek asylum in Nigeria, Perriello said, the court would "put pressure on the Nigerian government to hand over Taylor to answer his charge on crimes against humanity."

U.S. Ambassador Peter Chaveas urged members of Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Tuesday to motivate Sierra Leoneans to ask themselves what led to more than a decade of brutal civil war – and to make sure that what happened in their country is never repeated. The ambassador's statement was delivered at a TRC thematic hearing in Freetown by Deputy Chief of Mission Larry Andre. "Sierra Leoneans must ask questions that no outsider can pose and contemplate answers that no outsiders could conceivably provide," he said. "International partners must at the same time also ask themselves hard questions. Did we fail to read properly the signs of impending disaster? Did we fail to do enough to influence the course of events? How can we best continue to contribute to the work of this Commission and whatever successor institution there may be?" The Commission's final report, he said, should be a catalyst to a "continuous and long-term process of introspection," and should lead to a credible National Human Rights Commission to ensure that the lessons of the past are not forgotten. "Too often in the past the international community, faced with the horrors such as those experienced by Sierra Leone, has said 'never again' and yet it has happened again," he said. "We fervently hope that the proceedings and results of this Commission will serve as a landmark in our collective efforts to assure that indeed, this will never, ever happen again."

1 July: A United Nations Security Council mission currently on a six-nation tour of West Africa is due to arrive in Sierra Leone Thursday. The group, led by Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock of Britain, is expected to hold talks with the president and vice president, senior officials of UNAMSIL and the U.N. Country Team, and members of the diplomatic corps. Meetings are also scheduled with officials of the Special Court, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and representatives of civil society groups. According to a UNAMSIL statement, the mission will assess the success of the U.N. peacekeeping force in restoring security in the country and its impact on the protection of civilians. It will also look at the progress in implementing UNAMSIL's drawdown plans, and the ability of Sierra Leone's police and armed forces to provide security as the force withdraws.