The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

August 2001
 

31 August: Kamajor militiamen, RUF rebel combatants and members of the Sierra Leone Army took part in a peace march in Bo Friday ahead of the start of disarmament in Bo and Bombali Districts in September. "These were arch enemies before the restoration of the democratically-elected government in this country," said BBC Bo correspondent Richard Margao. "Seeing the SLA again and the RUF coming together in Bo Town, that is a milestone in the history of the disarmament process." The celebration is to culminate in a football match on Saturday. Meanwhile, Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman (pictured left), who is also National Coordinator of the pro-government Civil Defence Forces, met with Kamajor commanders, ex-combatants, and their families at the Bo Town Hall Friday. "(He warned them) to disarm to UNAMSIL tomorrow or face criminal charges in court," Margao said. "He also reminded them of the May 15 agreement between UNAMSIL, CDF and RUF, that anybody caught with arms and ammunition or causing mayhem after disarmament will be regarded as an enemy." Norman expressed regret that Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war had disrupted their academic and professional lives, but said that opportunities now existed for them to pursue the vocations of their choice, Margao added.

The U.S. Attorney-General has given notice of intent to extend for an additional year the designation of Sierra Leone under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programme, which is due to expire on November 2. Re-registration, which will extend employment authorisation and allow those covered to remain in the United States through November 2002, is limited to those who previously registered for the programme. The 90-day re-registration period begins on August 31 and runs through November 29.

The United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone is nearing its Security Council authorised strength of 17,500 with the expected arrival of a last contingent of Pakistani troops en route from Islamabad, Radio France International reported on Friday. Behrooz Sadry, the Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General (pictured left) was quoted as saying that the situation in Sierra Leone was improving every day, and that the movement of civilians within the country was becoming more and more free.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) distributed 815 tons of food to 35,864 persons in Sierra Leone during the past week, the agency said in its latest emergency report. The WFP distributed food to 17,486 internally displaced persons at the town of Mile 91, while simultaneously carrying out an assessment mission to identify additional beneficiaries for next month. In the south, 10,699 persons received relief food at Mandu, Bo Township and Port Loko Camp. The agency also assisted 200 Liberian refugees who were relocated from Daru to resettlement camps in the south, along with 8,800 returnees in the Western Area. The WFP distributed 207 tons of food to 15,923 persons at the Lokomansama resettlement site in Lungi. The agency is also operating food-for-agriculture projects in Makpele, Barri West, and Soro Gbema Chiefdoms in Pujehun District, and has started distributing 210 tons of food to 4,915 farm families in Tonkolili District's Tane Chiefdom. The WFP completed food distributions to 13,219 families in Bombali, Port Loko and Tonkolili Districts during the week. 

29 August: Britain will cut its military training force in Sierra Leone by nearly half by next month, a defence source in London told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday. "The proportion of the country under the control of the government of Sierra Leone has expanded hugely," the source said. "That has allowed us to get to the point where we can start to see the drawdown of our training team, which has been running at about 600, including a short-term training scheme. We see that finishing up next month and the numbers then dropping down to initially to around 300 to 400." The source added that the British presence could be halved again, to a long-term core of 100 to 150 trainers, after Sierra Leone's presidential and parliamentary elections, now tentatively scheduled for the first half of next year.

The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and the Sierra Leone Web announced a joint effort Wednesday aimed at making first-hand information on Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission available to persons anywhere in the world. Initially, documents, photographs, and an explanation of the Truth and Reconciliation process have been provided by the United Nations and are hosted by the Sierra Leone Web at http://www.sierra-leone.org/trc.html. Behrooz Sadry, the Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General, stressed that popularising the Commission was a crucial element in Sierra Leone's peace process. He added that it was UNAMSIL's role to assist the Sierra Leone government and civil society in making Sierra Leoneans from all walks of life aware of the Commission's provisions and its mode of operation.

Sierra Leone's former ruling APC party has added its voice to calls by a number of civil society groups, opposition parties, and the rebel RUF for an interim government of national unity. "The current government has gone out of ideas, of actually having a solution to our problems," APC Deputy Leader John Yambasu told the BBC. "We want a level playing field. We want a credible National Electoral Council. We want to have statistical developments to show exactly what is happening in the country, what has gone wrong, what is happening in the country." Yambasu said his party was asking for a national consultative conference comprising the existing political parties and civil society groups to meet "and give a mandate to this new government." The deputy leader said the conference should go ahead despite the fact that peace had not been fully restored to the country. "We’ve had a lull in the fighting for six months; there has been relative peace in Sierra Leone," he said. "We have to test this peace, and the way of testing the peace is by having an election. And if you have an election where, the election is not going to be free, fair and credible, then we’ll be reversing the whole effort of the international community, especially the British government, that has come in." Yambasu said the interim administration should govern the country for "anything between twelve to eighteen months, maximum." 

Acting UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Martin Agwai (pictured left)  has paid a confidence-building visit to the rebel-held diamond mining town of Tongo ahead of next month's planned deployment of Zambian peacekeepers in the area, UNAMSIL said on Wednesday. Agwai and the Zambian 2nd Battalion commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Chikumba, were met by Colonel Sama Banya, commander of the RUF's 5th Brigade, who assured them that the rebel group was committed to peace and would allow U.N. peacekeepers to deploy at Tongo and in the surrounding area. 

28 August: Sierra Leone's RUF rebels say they want a 1-1/2 year interim transitional government, and are threatening to stop cooperating with the peace process if the government fails to accede to their demands. "If they refuse an interim government the whole peace process will be at a standstill," RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi told the Sierra Leone Web on Tuesday. "Above all, we will even stop government officials entering to our own territory. We are not going to fight any longer, but that will be a form of protest so that the whole world will know that we need to address the political aspect of this problem now in Sierra Leone." The hardening of the RUF's position followed this weekend's government announcement that elections would be held only after disarmament was complete, and rejecting opposition calls for an interim administration. President Kabbah is expected to ask parliament for a second six-month delay of presidential and parliamentary elections due to continuing insecurity in the country. Massaquoi, however, insisted that six months would not be enough time to return the country to a state where elections could be held. "We are asking for a transition of 1-1/2 years so that the refugees could return and resettle, internally displaced persons could return and resettle, we have census conducted to know exactly the total population of the country after the civil war, and at the same time to know exactly who are eligible voters," he said. "But that cannot be done within six months, and they don’t want to leave the seat of office."

A former appeals court judge, 74-year old Justice M.O. Taju-Deen, has been released from prison after serving just 58 days of a 12-month sentence for corruption and perverting justice, the Panapress reported on Tuesday. Taju-Deen had been recalled from retirement to preside over the corruption trial of former Agriculture Minister Dr. Harry Will, accused of defrauding the government of $900,000 and causing the World Bank to pay out $1,350,000 for supposedly supplying 1,000 metric tons of seed rice from Ghana. Will was found guilty, but was filed only Le 500,000 — about $250. In a June interview with the Sierra Leone Web, President Kabbah hailed Taju-Deen's conviction as an early success of the government's anti-corruption commission. Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa told the Panapress that the decision to release the former justice was based on "medical reports on his deteriorating health condition submitted by his wives and relatives." Said Berewa: "We don't want him to die in prison."

Police in Sierra Leone have launched a major operation to seize illegal "conflict diamonds," blamed for fueling Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war, the Reuters news agency reported on Tuesday. Police said the operation began on Monday with the seizure of 179 stones from the home of a Freetown woman. There was no estimate as to their value. Last month the government and the rebels agreed to a moratorium on mining in Sierra Leone's diamond-rich Kono District, but the ban has been largely ignored. "There is no police presence in the district and we have information that foreigners and nationals have been traveling there to deal with illicit miners," a senior police source was quoted as saying.

Radhika Coomarswamy, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, called Tuesday for more donor support for Sierra Leone's women, particularly for those who are internally displaced. Coomarswamy told reporters at the end of her week-long visit to Sierra Leone that the social condition of women had deteriorated during the past decade of civil strife, and she accused the donor community of "not responding appropriately," UNAMSIL said in a statement. She also pointed to other problems confronting Sierra Leonean women, such as the use of women as sex slaves, rape, drug abuse, and traditional practices including female genital mutilation and discriminatory laws on inheritance. During her visit to Sierra Leone, Coomarswamy met with government and U.N. officials, diplomats, RUF leaders, and several women's organisations. She also visited Kenema, Bo and Makeni, where she heard testimony from female victims of physical and psychological atrocities perpetrated during the war.

RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi has disputed allegations that the rebel group is using forced labour by children and youths to dig diamonds in Sierra Leone's eastern Kono District. The Washington Post reported last week that the RUF, using forced labour, was continuing to dig diamonds in Kono despite a moratorium on all mining activities in the district. "That is not correct at all," Massaquoi told the Sierra Leone Web. "In fact, the whole mining site is open to everybody: women, children, even people from Freetown are coming down there. Even people who have been given certificates from Freetown are all going down to Kono to buy diamonds. It’s not an issue of digging or RUF forcing people to labour. Everybody — CDF, civilians, RUF — everybody is digging."

27 August: Sierra Leone's delayed presidential and parliamentary elections will likely take place during the first six months of next year, National Electoral Commissioner Walter Nicol said on Monday. "So far the disarmament process is going on very smoothly, and we understand it should end in November. If it ends in November, then we probably will be able to to start registration in late January," Nicol told the BBC. He said he did not yet have a specific date, but added: "I’m sure it won’t be necessary to keep on postponing indefinitely." The commissioner said a "violence-free atmosphere" would have to be created prior to elections. "(The voters) have told us over and over again that they would not feel free to go out and register or vote if the combatants are not disarmed," he said. "And we have promised in our strategic plan that we will only hold elections in a violence-free atmosphere." In addition, Nicol said, the National Electoral Commission wanted access to all parts of the country "so that we will be able to go out and educate the people before attempting to register them."

Sierra Leone's RUF rebels have called for a national consultative conference which would pave the way for an interim transitional government. In a letter to Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General, RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi said the rebel group would oppose a further six-month extension in the life of the government, and instead wanted to establish multi-party caretaker government to complete disarmament and prepare for elections. "The RUF in previous meetings had shown much commitment to the agreements reached. But we cannot continue if our political concerns are not addressed," Massaquoi said.

Disarmament in Koinadugu District, which got off to a slow start last week due to poor roads and a lack of transport, has begun to pick up, the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported on Monday. The news service quoted a humanitarian source as saying the U.N. had provided vehicles to transport combatants to disarmament reception centers at Kabala and Fadugu. According to UNAMSIL, 177 RUF fighters and 46 CDF combatants turned in their weapons in Koinadugu during the first week of disarmament. 

25 August: A team of election experts from the Commonwealth Secretariat has sent a team to Sierra Leone to help prepare for the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, Chief Electoral Commissioner Walter Nicol was quoted as saying. The team included legal and voter registration advisors, the BBC reported. With the July 13 registration of the Peace and Liberation Party, there are now 21 registered political parties in Sierra Leone, and more are expected to register ahead of the elections. Nicol has insisted that all combatants in the country must be disarmed before elections can take place.

24 August: RUF 3rd Brigade commander "Colonel Bai Bureh" (Abubakar Jalloh, pictured left) told U.N. officials Thursday that the disarmament process in Koinadugu District, which began on Monday, is being hindered by lack of transportation and poor roads, UNAMSIL said on Friday. "Bai Bureh" accompanied acting UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Martin Agwai and Chief Military Observer Major-General Athar Ali to Alikalia, where he instructed RUF combatants to turn over their weapons to U.N. peacekeepers. Bai Bureh assured the rebel fighters that UNAMSIL would provide security for everyone, the statement said.

A total of 12,902 combatants have laid down their arms in Sierra Leone since the disarmament process resumed in May, the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) said on Friday. The figure is lower that that provided by UNAMSIL, which puts the total number of combatants disarmed at over 16,000. Acting UNAMSIL spokesman Patrick Coker said there was a reason for the discrepancy. While U.N. figures are compiled at the reception centers when the combatants turn in their arms, he told the Sierra Leone Web last week, the NCDDR records the numbers only when the documents are processed. "Part of the processing includes documentation for identity cards -- in other words, the figure they have at any point in time depicts the ex-combatants that have been documented in NCDDR, outside the disarmament reception centres," he said. According to the NCDDR, 4,633 RUF fighters including 1,223 children, 8,162 CDF combatants including 684 children, 65 ex-SLA and 42 others, eight of them children, have so far turned in their weapons out of an estimated 28,000 combatants in the country. 5,636 weapons have been collected since the beginning of disarmament, along with 39,530 rounds of ammunition and 3,197 pieces of other equipment. 

An international effort to stem the flow of "conflict diamonds," blamed for fueling wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, may be stalling, U.S. Representative Tony Hall said on Thursday. According to the Associated Press, Hall told the World Diamond Conference that his own bill to require diamond importers to provide certificates of origin on rough and polished diamonds might not win Congressional approval despite having bipartisan support. Hall warned diamond industry representatives gathered in Vancouver to do more to eliminate conflict diamonds or risk a backlash in the United States, the world's largest consumer of the gemstones. "I believe that the Kimberly Process is in trouble, and that your industry may be the only player that can salvage its promise," Hall said, adding that deadlines set in the agreement had already been missed. The next meeting in the Kimberly Process takes place in London in two weeks time. "This really is a make-it or break-it meeting," a diamond expert told the Sierra Leone Web. "Despite all the cheery talk, there are a lot of problems that need sorting out, and several governments that don't want that to happen."

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 1800 / 2100 [£] 2300 / 2900. Commercial Bank: [$] 1850 / 2050. [£] 2590 / 2870. Frandia: [$] 2200 / 2300 [£] 2950 / 3150. Continental: [$] 2220 / 2350 [£] 2900 / 3200. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2270 / 2285 [£] 3000 / 3050.

23 August: The Mano River Union's Joint Security Committee concluded two days of talks in Freetown Thursday with a recommendation that armed rebel groups operating with in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia be apprehended and turned over to their country of origin. In a communiqué released after the meeting, delegations from the three countries, led by their respective foreign ministers, said they had resolved to enforce compliance with the Mano River Union's 1996 Non-Aggression and Security Co-Operation Treaty, to deploy joint border security along their common borders, and to create "material and psychological conditions" to encourage the repatriation of refugees to their countries of origin.

At least 13 African would-be immigrants, including nine Sierra Leoneans, drowned off the coast of the Canary Islands on Thursday while attempting to reach Spain, the German news agency DPA reported. Eight other people survived. They told Spanish authorities that the smugglers had forced them to jump off the boat into the water during the night. Aid agencies estimate that some 700 persons have lost their lives this year alone in attempting to enter Spain across the Gibraltar Straits.

22 August: Delegations from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia met at Freetown's Mammy Yoko Hotel this week for two days of talks on security issues affecting the Mano River Union sub-region. The Joint Security Committee meeting is a follow-up to last week's meeting of foreign ministers in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. "We should send a clear message that we have the capability to resolve our differences and problems by peaceful means," said Safety and Security Minister Charles Margai (pictured left) following Wednesday's talks. "The government and people of Sierra Leone hope that we would not only deliver flowery speeches but ensure that we match our words with deeds." Margai described the meeting as a "fact-finding exercise on where we have gone wrong and how to chart a way forward," the Associated Press reported. The Guinean delegation was led by Foreign Minister Mahawa Bangoura, while Foreign Minister Monie Captan headed a high-ranking Liberian delegation which included Justice Minister Eddington Varmah, Defence Minister Daniel Chea, National Security Minister Philip Karma and Presidential National Security Advisor Lewis Brown. "It is my wish that we can put distrust aside and negotiate, deliberate and consult in a spirit of trust and confidence among ourselves," Captan was quoted as saying. The United Nations Security Council granted a waiver of the U.N.'s international travel ban on senior Liberian officials to allow the ministers to attend the meeting.

Monday's police raid on a home in western Freetown was not aimed at RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi, who was staying at the residence while in the capital this week to conduct a joint sensitisation programme with the Sierra Leone government, Information Minister Dr. Cecil Blake said on Wednesday. "There was a tip-off to the police that a residence that has been suspected for quite awhile of being an abode for illicit dealings in 'blood diamonds' was having some activities taking place there," Blake told the BBC. "This residence has been under surveillance. A team of detectives obtained a search warrant and proceeded to that residence and conducted a search." On Tuesday, Massaquoi alleged that police had entered the house to search for arms, ammunition, foreign currency and minerals. He accused the government of mounting the raid in an effort to harass him. Blake denied the claim. "Warrant searches of that nature are not directed at individuals. It was directed at the premises," he said. "Mr. Massaquoi happened to have been there, and he had a black handbag containing money and other items. He opened the bag briefly, and the police observed what appeared to be hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars. When questioned further, Mr. Massaquoi indicated that he had in his possession $13,400 U.S. dollars. He was then asked to go to the CID headquarters. He went instead to the UNAMSIL offices." Blake added that police had found "criminal documents" at the residence. "The occupant of that home had four passports in his name, including a Sierra Leone diplomatic passport," he said.

Members of the United Nations Security Council's Sierra Leone Sanctions Committee have agreed that the Second Review of the new diamond certification of origin regime was "thorough and detailed," committee chairman Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury of Bangladesh has written in a letter to the Sierra Leone government. Chowdhury commended the government for its "continued efforts to curtail the traffic in conflict diamonds mined from Sierra Leonean territory," but requested that the Sierra Leonean authorities continue to submit 90-day review reports on a regular and timely basis. In addition, Chowdhury said, the committee had expressed interest in "the future arrangements planned by the government for monitoring the resumption of mining in areas reclaimed from the RUF." 

UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki expressed guarded optimism Wednesday over the prospects for peace in Sierra Leone. But she said that the process would take time. "In any civil conflict the most difficult aspect is restoring a semblance of building confidence between the parties," Novicki told reporters at the United Nations headquarters in New York. "In Sierra Leone’s case, of course, it took a long time to rebuild confidence, particularly after what took place last year (the collapse of the peace process), and there were a lot of — people, let’s say — who were interested in a quick solution to the conflict. But it takes time. Diplomacy takes time. Restoring confidence takes time. And putting a country back together after a decade of civil war takes time." Novicki, who is on leave in the U.S. this month, warned that a lack of funds could put at risk programmes designed to reintegrate former combatants into society. "People need support, training and a feeling that they have future prospects," she said.

21 August: A leading RUF commander has sought the protection of United Nations peacekeepers after allegedly killing another rebel commander in Makeni, UNAMSIL military spokesman Major Mohammed Yerima (pictured right) said on Tuesday. "Brigadier-General Morris Kallon came for self-protection with the United Nations mission, Yerima told the BBC. "It was alleged that he killed one of his commanders, one 'Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher'. It was alleged that they were involved in stealing some things, removing some roofing sheets and so on and so forth." Yerima said it was still too early to say whether the RUF would demand that Kallon be handed over. "At the moment when such incident happened, you don’t just start thinking of bringing him back or sending him away or taking drastic measure on him, but the issue is how to resolve the issue amicably with the leadership so that it should not disrupt the peace process going on," he said. Yerima said UNAMSIL was conducting an investigation into the incident, and he defended the U.N.'s decision not to hand the investigation over to the police. "There is no police presence in Makeni," he said.

Acting UNAMSIL spokesman Patrick Coker confirmed Tuesday that some RUF detainees have been moved from Freetown's Pademba Road Prison. He provided no details. Coker's statement, to Radio France International, followed allegations by the rebel spokesman over the weekend that 40 of the group's senior officials had been transferred to Pujehun District and Bonthe Island. "I am not aware of any agreement concerning movement of detainees, but I can inform you that the RUF is concerned about this movement," Coker said. "I believe after a meeting with the RUF, UNAMSIL tasked the human rights section of UNAMSIL to look into it."

Police have raided the home in western Freetown where RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi was staying while in the capital to participate with the government in joint a sensitisation programme, Massaquoi told the BBC. "They told me they were there to search for arms, ammunitions, foreign currency and minerals," he said, adding: "They searched throughout. Nothing was found." Massaquoi said the police still insisted he accompany them to police headquarters. "The only thing I told them that I was not going to get into their landrover, I have my own private vehicle," he said. "I rode with them...I decided it’s nonsense. They did not come to my yard with any warrant of invitation or arrest, and they have not found anything of substance to them so there is no need for me to go. If I am to go there I could only go along with UNAMSIL or my lawyer." Massaquoi said he put down the accompanying CID officer at Bathurst Street and then drove to UNAMSIL headquarters. "With this type of development I will be moving out with security," he said. The rebel spokesman said he believed the government was behind the police raid, and he warned that it could have the effect of slowing the peace process. "If I am here for reconciliation, to establish some form of confidence-building, if I am treated this way, exactly when I go back I report to my commander I believe things will move at a slow pace," he said.

20 August: 45 CDF combatants handed over their weapons to U.N. peacekeepers Monday in a symbolic ceremony at the northern town of Makakura to begin the disarmament process in Koinadugu District, UNAMSIL said in a statement. The CDF also turned over 39 former child combatants to the Catholic child protection agency, CARITAS-Makeni. The ex-combatants brought in a variety of light arms, including AK-47 rifles, FNs, and a rocket launcher. All of the weapons were destroyed at the reception centre. The former combatants were transported to a demobilisation camp at Kabala.

The United States government has donated $4.8 million in military equipment to a Senegalese battalion bound for peacekeeping duties in Sierra Leone, the Associated Press reported on Monday. The equipment, which includes military vehicles, machine guns, mortars, tents helmets and other equipment, was donated under a U.S.-sponsored program known as Operation Focus Relief. The 650 Senegalese soldiers also underwent a ten-week military training course conducted by 70 U.S. Army Special Forces troops.

The food security situation in Sierra Leone's eastern Kailahun District remains "fragile," with almost no rice for sale in the towns of Kailahun and Pendembu, the  U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said on Monday. The conclusion came following a joint assessment mission by the WFP and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for four chiefdoms in the rebel-held district: Upper Bambara, Luawa, Mandu and Dia. The team reported, however, that security conditions were not adequate to assist both area residents and Liberian refugees under a general food distribution. The WFP is now discussing with other agencies ways to assist malnourished people, either by setting up feeding centres in Kailahun and Buedu, where the majority of the refugees are concentrated, or by referring them to Daru. Meanwhile, the WFP distributed 905 tons of food to 46,021 persons during the second week in August. This included 122 tons of food to 2,855 affected farmers in Malema, Jawi, Mandu, Dia and Jaluahun Chiefdoms. If the security situation permits, the agency is planning on expanding agricultural programmes in Kailahun District. The WFP also distributed 15 tons of food to the new disarmament camps in Moyamba District and at Kabala.

19 August: The RUF has written to UNAMSIL asking for access to imprisoned rebel officials, including their leader Foday Sankoh, and alleging that the Sierra Leone government had moved more than 40 senior RUF members from Freetown's Pademba Road Prison to locations in Pujehun District and on Bonthe Island. "It is meaningless, if our colleagues are being held in prison without being charged for any crime they may have committed for the past one year and four months, and both the government and the RUF continue to preach reconciliation," said the letter, which was signed by RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi. The letter expressed concern about the safety of the detained RUF members, who Massaquoi alleged were being held "not under UNAMSIL supervision but purely Kamajors. It also suggested that Sankoh might be in British custody. "Our own concern is the issue of our brothers being detained," Massaquoi told Voice of America correspondent Kelvin Lewis. "As you know we have been persistently asking that they release our brothers in the interests of peace and reconciliation...We wrote a letter to the SRSG (Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General) that including Foday Sankoh we want to know and see where exactly our people are being detained," Massaquoi said. "We want to see him, we want to talk with him, we want to talk with our brothers, and above all we are asking that they release all of them in the interests of peace and peace and reconciliation."

RUF rebels are using forced labour by children and young men to continue mining diamonds in Kono District, despite an agreement earlier this month to observe a moratorium on all mining activities, the Washington Post reported on Sunday. In addition, RUF commanders acknowledged to Post correspondent Doug Farah that, despite their commitment to disarm, the rebel group has retained its military structure and enough weapons to enforce its control over the alluvial diamond mining fields. "A mixture of RUF militants, adult and child conscripts, and local miners allowed in by the rebels has turned every possible diamond site into a pile of mud and gravel where the miners, dressed in rags and covered with mud, pan for stones. Children work beside adults, digging mud and gravel, sifting it and wielding picks and shovels," Farah wrote after visiting Koidu, the district's largest — but largely destroyed — city. The RUF claims that the miners, working under RUF supervision, are allowed to keep two thirds of the stones they mine, while the rest goes to the rebel group as a tax.

18 August: The disarmament of combatants in Sierra Leone's eastern Kono District has been completed, UNAMSIL military spokesman Major Mohammed Yerima (pictured left) was quoted as saying on Saturday. According to the Associated Press, Yerima said the last of the 3,623 RUF fighters and 2,011 CDF militiamen in the district turned in their weapons to United Nations peacekeepers on Friday, bringing the total number of combatants who have surrendered their weapons nationwide since the disarmament process resumed in May to over 16,000. 166 RUF and 50 CDF combatants gave up their weapons on the last day of the disarmament, the Voice of America reported. 

17 August: UNAMSIL began airlifting former combatants to demobilisation camps Thursday in an effort to speed up the disarmament process, acting UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Martin Agwai was quoted as saying on Friday. According to Reuters, Agwai told Radio UNAMSIL that the U.N. had begun transporting the combatants by helicopter in the east of the country, where the poor condition of roads in the rainy season has slowed the movement of combatants to the camps. The disarmament process in Kono District is behind schedule, but Agwai said he hoped it would soon be complete. "I am hopeful that by next week (the U.N. force) UNAMSIL will...see Kono begin to return to its normal life," he said. Patrick Coker, the acting UNAMSIL spokesman, was quoted as saying that more than 6,200 combatants, including 700 children, had handed in their weapons in Kono, while others were continuing to come forward. Nationwide, Coker told the Sierra Leone Web late Friday, 15,121 combatants have laid down their guns since disarmament resumed in May.

150 CDF combatants handed over their weapons Wednesday on the first day of disarmament in Moyamba District, the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) said on Friday. Some 1,500 CDF combatants are expected to disarm in the district by August 31. Disarmament begins Monday in Sierra Leone's northern Koinadugu District, where about 1,400 RUF and 1,280 CDF combatants are expected to disarm by the end of the month. As of August 11, according to NCDDR figures, 11,561 combatants had disarmed nationwide, including 3,779 RUF, 7,533 CDF, 212 AFRC/ex-SLA and 37 others. The NCDDR said 11,211 ex-combatants are now benefiting from re-integration projects, of which 4,034 are engaged in vocational/small enterprise development training. 1,819 are engaged in various types of formal education programmes, 1,513 are involved in apprenticeships, and 362 are taking part in public works programmes.

Only three of Sierra Leone’s seven student athletes who qualified in April for this month’s Summer Universiade Games in Bejing have found sponsors, sports correspondent Andrew Masuba reported from Freetown. The team, which included Tamba Koteque, Alie Conteh and Dan Dawson-Showers from Fourah Bay College, Bernadette Amara and Alimamy C. Bangura from the Milton Margai College of Education, and Samul Kallon and Martin Bangura from Njala University College, were to have departed for the Chinese capital on Thursday. But only the top three finishers, Amara, Koteque and Conteh, have been able to come up with the necessary funds. Amara and Koteque are both being sponsored by the Summer Universade Games’ organizing committee, while Conteh is backed by Sierra Leone's Ministry of Youth, Education and Sports. The Sierra Leone Roads Authorities also donated $1,000 to help the athletes. Amara will compete in the women’s 100 and 200-metres race, Koteque in the long jump and triple jump, and Conteh men’s 100 and 200-metres. The games are held every two years, and include students from colleges and off-campus institutions in all sports, including soccer. Due to economic constraint, emphasis was put this year on athletics events.

Valentine Strasser, Sierra Leone's former military ruler who as NPRC chairman was once the world's youngest head of state, is now homeless, according to John Benjamin (pictured right), the former NPRC secretary-general and current head of the opposition NUP party. "He hasn’t got a home to live in. He is living in an unfinished house in his village, and he’s being fed by his mom who presently hasn’t got a job," Benjamin told the BBC. Earlier this week the government appealed to Freetown residents not to harass Strasser, who can often be seen walking the streets of the capital. "Basically he has to walk from one place to another. He hasn’t got a vehicle," Benjamin said. "So when he’s walking the streets and people realise there is the former head of state, they all crowd and run after him." Benjamin acknowledged reports of bizarre behaviour on the part of the former NPRC leader, but he attributed it to stress. "I have been to see him. He’s quite well. I mean he is in good health," he said. "But when you have a lot of stress on your mind, you appear to be abnormal. He’s on a lot of stress. I mean, imagine a former head of state has to worry about his next day’s meal. I mean, how does he feel? That is the stress under which he is living." It was the same stress, Benjamin insisted, that caused Strasser problems in Britain. Strasser was expelled from Britain, and then Gambia, last December. But Benjamin defended Strasser's record as NPRC chairman. "During the time he was head of state, at least, he made his own contribution," he said. "(People) should look at it from the fact that he’s a human being, he deserves some attention now that he needs help."

The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has expressed concern over the plight of Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia, which it describes as a particularly vulnerable group, the BBC reported on Friday. The committee also noted reports of extra-judicial killings, allegations of rape and torture, and a lack of accountability of perpetrators, including government security forces. The committee also voiced alarm over the situation of refugees who fled the Liberian civil war, saying little was being done to help repatriate and reintegrate them.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 1800 / 2100 [£] 2300 / 2900. Commercial Bank: [$] 1850 / 2050. [£] 2590 / 2870. Frandia: [$] 2200 / 2300 [£] 2950 / 3200. Continental: [$] 2220 / 2350 [£] 2900 / 3200. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2270 / 2285 [£] 3000 / 3020.

16 August: The foreign ministers of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea ended their meeting in Monrovia on Wednesday with a recommendation that the presidents of the three Mano River Union states meet as soon as possible. A meeting to determine the venue, date and agenda of the summit will be held September 10 in the Guinean capital Conakry. The ministers agreed to use the Mano River Union's non-aggression pact as the framework for resolving conflicts in the strife-torn sub-region, and recommended that a joint security meeting take place in Freetown on August 22. In a communiqué released after the meeting, the ministers called for cooperation and confidence-building among the three states at all levels, "reaffirmed the political will of the respective governments to make the Mano River Union an organisation capable of promoting social and economic integration; condemned all dissident activities in the sub-region, and agreed to take individual and collective measures to curb the activities of armed groups operating in the Mano River Union sub-region; and agreed to foster good neighbourliness."

Following this week's meeting of Mano River Union foreign ministers in Monrovia, Sierra Leonean Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ahmed Ramadan Dumbuya acknowledged the difficulties Thursday in efforts to bring together the three presidents of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. In March, Guinean President Lansana Conte vowed he would never negotiate with President Charles Taylor of Liberia, whom he accused of backing an insurgency on Guinean soil. But Conte appeared to soften his position this month after an appeal by a delegation of prominent women from the Mano River Union countries. "Definitely there are difficulties," Dumbuya told the BBC. "This whole consultative meeting and subsequent meetings are geared towards removing these difficulties so that our leaders can again get together and work for the good of the entire people of the sub-region." Dumbuya said his government was taking a cautious approach. "We have our doubts, we have our mistrust, but we believe that that shouldn’t prevent us also from taking whatever advantages there may appear to be to try to resolve our problems," he said. The minister said moves to resolve the differences between the three states were a response to the desires of the people in the sub-region. "I think this is a responsible response by the leaders of the region to adequately address the yearnings of their people who want to be left alone, who want peace so that they can go about their ordinary life," he said.

A convoy of Sierra Leone Army troops passed unhindered through the RUF's northern headquarters of Makeni Wednesday — with the RUF's consent — to resupply government troops deployed at Kabala, Army Media Relations Director Major John Milton said on Thursday. Milton told the BBC that the event marked a "giant step" in the peace process. "This is the first time in over three and a half years that the security situation has improved to the extent that government forces can now transit through areas that were previously considered too dangerous," he said. Milton noted that the army had previously been forced to resupply its troops in Kabala by air. "You could imagine that we took a lot of supplies compared to when we tried to use aircraft to resupply them," he said, adding: "We hope that it will be a routine administrative move now so that our troops will be getting their supplies via road instead of air. And we hope it will continue in that direction."

Members of the United Nations Security Council have welcomed this week's meeting of Mano River Union foreign ministers in Monrovia, according to a statement read out by the current Security Council president, Ambassador Alfonso Valdivieso of Colombia. "(Members) express the hope that the initiative will facilitate and broaden prospects for enhanced cooperation and sustainable peace throughout the sub-region, and encourage the ongoing initiatives aimed at promoting a meeting of the heads of States of the Mano River Union," the statement said.

15 August: CDF combatants turned in their weapons to U.N. peacekeepers at the town of Gandohun in Moyamba District's Fokoyan Chiefdom Wednesday, in a symbolic exercise to kick off the start of disarmament in the district. According to a UNAMSIL statement,  the event was witnessed by acting UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Martin Agwai and other senior United Nations staff, and Dr. Francis Kai-Kai (pictured right), the executive secretary of the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration. The statement did not say now many combatants disarmed, but weapons turned in were said to include AK-47s, FN rifles, and other light arms. Disarmament is due to begin in the northern Koinadugu District, an RUF stronghold, on August 20. A disarmament camp built to house about 500 combatants at Kabala is now complete, the UNAMSIL statement said.

The Sierra Leone government has appealed to Freetown residents not to harass former NPRC leader Valentine Strasser, the Reuters news agency reported on Wednesday. Strasser's condition has reportedly deteriorated since he was expelled from Britain, and then Gambia, last November. "Captain Strasser...has been facing embarrassment by some members of the public by throwing stones at him as well as booing him and it is a great concern to the nation," the government said in a statement.

14 August: Foreign Minister Ahmed Ramadan Dumbuya met in Monrovia Tuesday with his counterparts from the Mano River Union states of Guinea and Liberia to lay the groundwork for a heads of state summit later this year. Relations between the three nations has been tense in recent months, characterised by accusations and counter-accusations of support for insurgencies in one another's territory. But Dumbuya (picture right) suggested that relationship between the three countries was improving. "The very fact that I am here from Sierra Leone, my sister is here from Guinea is an indication that if there had been any mistrust it has been eroded right now," he told reporters. Following the ministerial meeting, the three foreign ministers and their delegations met behind closed doors with Liberian President Charles Taylor. "President Taylor assured the delegations that he’s in one accord with the rest of the leaders in a search for peace in the sub-region," said Vaani Passawe, Taylor's press secretary. "He however expressed concern about ongoing war in Lofa County, and hoped that these meetings will lead to a final peace in MRU (Mano River Union)." The three foreign ministers are due to meet again in Freetown on September 10. Arrangements are also being concluded for a meeting of defence and security officials from the three countries, the BBC reported. No date has yet been set for the presidential summit. 

Sierra Leone's Director of Information, Priestly Bell, has called "untrue" a claim by RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi that the government had freed far fewer rebel detainees than the 41 it said were released last week, the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported. Massaquoi told the BBC that only 17 RUF members had been freed. Bell, however, insisted that the government figure was accurate, IRIN said.

13 August: RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi has disputed the government's claim to have released 41 RUF detainees ahead of last Friday's tripartite meeting in Kenema. "The situation in my view, and in the view of the RUF, is that only 17 of our men were released and not 41," Massaquoi told the BBC. He added that seven other names were duplicated. "There are other people who matter in our transformation (to a political party), who matter in the peace process," he said. "They are still keeping them over there. They don’t want to release them. Over 121 names who are senior officials of the RUF. We want these people released." On Sunday, Sierra Leone's chief electoral commissioner suggested that the disarmament process would not be completed in time to hold elections before the end of the year. Massaquoi agreed that the vote should not be rushed. "We want free and fair elections," he said. "We cannot rush elections in this country because our people are still out as refugees, there are some displaced. People need to resettle and we need to know exactly who are eligible voters before we can start talking about elections in Sierra Leone." The rebel spokesman repeated the RUF's call for an interim government — a demand President Kabbah has rejected as being unconstitutional. "That is what we believe in, that all political parties including civil society should participate in a transitional government that will take us to election," Massaquoi said.

U.S. President George W. Bush issued a memorandum to the Secretary of State Monday to allow the sales of arms and military equipment to Pakistan, to be used to equip Pakistani peacekeepers in Sierra Leone. The waiver to the U.S. ban on arms sales to the Pakistanis applies to the purchase of helicopter and armored personnel carrier spare parts and ammunition "for use in its deployment in Sierra Leone in support of U.N. peacekeeping operations," the memorandum said.

The aid agency GTZ officially launched the first of its skills training centres Friday at the town of Mange in Sierra Leone's northern Port Loko District. The Mange Training Centre is the first in a series of German-funded skills training centers to be opened across the country. At Mange, the centre will benefit 125 ex-combatants and 125 persons from Bureh, Kasseh and Maconteh Chiefdoms. The programme offers training in masonry, carpentry, farming, hair dressing, soap making and blacksmithing. GTZ will support the trainees through three phases of the programme, including in-centre training, on-the-job training, and the set-up of micro-enterprises after graduation. The programme targets 3,600 beneficiaries over three years, including a minimum of 1,800 ex-combatants.

The foreign ministers of Sierra Leone and Guinea were due to arrive in Monrovia late Monday for talks designed to pave the way for a meeting of the three Mano River Union heads of state, Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan told the BBC. "We expect to meet tomorrow and hold discussions relating to our bilateral relations and the issue of the Mano River Union, and hopefully setting some sort of a framework for a summit," he said. On Friday, the Liberian government reversed its decision to expel the ambassadors of Sierra Leone and Guinea for what it said in March was acts incompatible with their diplomatic status. Captan said the decision was influenced by appeals from regional leaders at last April's ECOWAS summit in Abuja, as well as on "the improvement in the situation within the Mano River Union, and...on the desire and the general consensus within the Mano River Union that there is a need now to move forward with the question of reconciliation and rapprochement." From the beginning, the Liberian government has refused to say why it decided to send the two ambassadors packing. "We are not on obligation to explain specifically the reasons," he said. "I should say that it was a reflection of the state of affairs of the relationships."

12 August: Elections which had been planned for December may have to be postponed until next year, Chief Electoral Commissioner Walter Nicol said on Sunday. According to the BBC, Nicol told a local radio station that too many people were still carrying arms in the country, despite progress in the disarmament programme. He added that a fact-finding mission to the rural areas had shown that people would not feel free to cast their ballots if all combatants had not been disarmed. "Presidential and parliamentary elections...will not take place until total disarmament throughout the country has been completed," Nicol was quoted as saying. "Though there is progress in the disarmament, I don't believe that the scheduled date of end November 2001 (to complete disarmament) will be possible." The elections were originally due in February, but were postponed by six months after the National Electoral Commission, which Nicol heads, said security and financial problems would not allow the vote to go ahead as scheduled. In its Strategic Plan 2001-2005, published in February, the commission proposed that voter registration begin in mid-September, and that the elections be held before the end of the year. But in a June interview with the Sierra Leone Web, President Kabbah suggested that the electoral commission's timetable might be too optimistic, and he said the elections would likely be held in February. Thirteen parties contested in the 1996 presidential and parliamentary elections. Currently, there are 21 registered political parties in Sierra Leone, with more expected to register ahead of the polls.

11 August: Liberia has lifted a ban it imposed on the ambassadors of Sierra Leone and Guinea, expelled from Monrovia in March for unspecified acts "incompatible with their diplomatic status," the Reuters news agency reported. A statement released by the Liberian government Friday evening said the lifting of the banks came from the "desire to normalise relations between Liberia and the two countries and to engage in dialogue for peaceful co-existence." The statement added that ECOWAS had asked Liberia to lift the ban.

A new community FM radio station was officially launched Friday at the town of Mile 91, east of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown. The station, Radio Mankneh, is currently doing test broadcasting with its 100-watt transmitter on the frequency FM 91. A final determination of the broadcast frequency will be made by the Independent Media Commission when it reviews the station's license application later this month. Radio Mankneh's transmitter was provided by World Vision and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), with production costs being underwritten by Freetown's Talking Drum Studio. The NCRRR is contributing Le 29 million to support the station's operational costs. Radio Mankneh is considered to be a "displaced institution" from the rebel-held town of Makeni. Eventually, the station plans to return to Makeni with a larger transmitter, which will allow it to reach listeners throughout the Northern Province. A small community radio station, to be renamed Radio Gbafth, will remain at Mile 91. The station's current range is approximately a 25-mile radius of Mile 91.

Following an appeal at the Paris international donors conference  in May for an additional $31 million to support Sierra Leone's Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme, the government has so far received pledges for nearly half that amount, the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) said on Friday. According to the latest NCDDR bulletin, the European Commission has pledged €10,000,000 ($8.9 million), while Germany promised DM 10,000,000 ($4.6 million). Sweden will donate 6,000,000 kroners ($585,000). Meanwhile, according to NCDDR figures, 10,812 of an estimated 28,000 combatants nationwide, including 1,536 children, had handed over their weapons to United Nations peacekeepers as of August 6.  The number included 3,369 RUF (including 933 children), 7,344 CDF (595 of them children), 62 ex-SLA, and 37 which were classified as "other" (8 of them children). Since the disarmament process resumed on May 18, 4,976 weapons have been surrendered by combatants, along with 299,188 rounds of ammunition, including bombs, and 3,178 pieces of other equipment, the NCDDR said.

President Kabbah invoked the principle of self-reliance Saturday in a speech marking the transformation of the Sierra Leone Roads Authority's Department of Equipment and Supplies into a new semi-autonomous Mechanical Services Unit. Kabbah said the new unit was expected to operate as a "commercially viable plant pool" within the authority, and to promote the development of local private road maintenance contractors. He noted that development of the industry was at present hampered by a lack of capital to buy equipment — especially heavy maintenance equipment. "Indigenous private road maintenance contractors and force account brigades will now be able to rent or lease such equipment from the newly-established Mechanical Services Unit at competitive, but reasonable commercial rates," Kabbah said, adding that this would allow the private firms the financial flexibility to upgrade their equipment at a convenient pace. The equipment was procured with the assistance of the World Bank, and the European Union, but the president stressed that international institutions and organisations should be seen not "as permanent donors or benefactors, but as development partners in an interdependent world, partners whose sole objective is to help boost our capacity to be more self-reliant."

Recent progress in the peace process is due in part to the change of leadership within Sierra Leone's RUF rebel movement, according to Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General in Sierra Leone. "We decided that one of the problems was with leadership of the RUF particularly with Foday Sankoh, who was obsessed with becoming president of Sierra Leone at all costs," Adeniji told the Voice of America. "Fortunately, we managed to persuade ECOWAS that really Foday Sankoh was not a truthful interlocutor, and that the RUF should look for a new leader if they want to be taken seriously in terms of negotiation." He added that the RUF's new leadership "of very young people" did not have "the ego and ambition of their former leader" and were persuaded that in the long term they could not win a military struggle. Adeniji said other factors contributing to the RUF's decision to join the peace process included contact with UNAMSIL "practically on a daily basis at every level," the build-up of U.N. forces, the training of the Sierra Leone Army by Britain, and international pressure on Liberian President Charles Taylor "who, quite obviously, was their main supporter."

10 August: Disarmament of combatants in Moyamba District will begin on August 15 and in Koinadugu District five days later, and should be completed by the end of the month, under an agreement reached in Kenema Friday between representatives of the Sierra Leone government and the RUF. The two delegations to the tripartite talks, led respectively by Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa (pictured right) and RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi (left), formally declared the end of disarmament in Kambia and Port Loko Districts. The two sides noted that there were still pockets of combatants in Kono, and called on the RUF and the CDF to ensure that all their combatants in the district disarm by August 17. They also agreed that disarmament in Bombali and Bo Districts would take place in September. The two sides are due to meet next in Makeni on September 6. 

RUF Political and Peace Council chairman Omrie Golley has reacted to Thursday's government announcement of the release of 41 RUF prisoners by saying that the move was "in keeping with our continued and persistent request" to have them freed. "Whilst we welcome the news that they have been released, we are continuing to request the government to release the remaining RUF at Pademba Road," Golley told Radio France International. As representatives of the Sierra Leone government, the RUF and UNAMSIL prepared to meet in the eastern town of Kenema on Friday, Golley said that the issue of diamond mining would likely be discussed. At the last tripartite meeting in Bo, the three sides agreed to a moratorium on diamond mining in Kono District in order to speed the disarmament process there. Reports from Kono, however, suggest that mining has continued unabated. "I think it most important, however, to say that disarmament in Kono is a first priority. Once people have disarmed completely, it is much easier than to enforce moratoria of this sort," Golley said, adding: "I think it’s also fair to say that the mining going on in Kono is very much free for all, and that it’s not just RUF but also all other combatants and Sierra Leoneans leaving Freetown during the week to go up to mine in Kono." Golley said one reason for the moratorium's failure was that word had to filter down to all those "all those that were involved in these activities, not only the armed combatants in the area." He stressed that disarming combatants in the area would make it easier to enforce the agreement. "Once you actually carry through with disarmament, then it becomes much easier for the government to enforce moratoria of this sort," he said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Sierra Leone government have issued a joint statement requesting returned refugees who have been residing in Freetown's three UNHCR transit centres to vacate the premises, the refugee agency said in a statement. The camps, at Jui (pictured left), Waterloo and Lumpa, were originally set up as five-day transit centres for Sierra Leonean returnees fleeing strife in Guinea. Currently, they shelter more than 8,000 persons, most of them ethnic Konos, who returned to Freetown by boat beginning last November. The UNHCR deems the RUF-held Kono District to still be too dangerous for resettlement, and instead wants to relocate the returnees to displaced camps in the south. The camp residents, backed by the group Movement of Concerned Kono Youth (MOCKY), have resisted being moved and insist they are willing to be resettled only in Kono. MOCKY representatives who spoke to the Sierra Leone Web in Freetown this past June expressed concerns about the security and welfare of returnees at the new camps, but they also voiced fears that the relocation exercise represented a "conspiracy" to relocate the Konos permanently "and give our land to other tribes." The UNHCR, however, has argued that the transit centres around Freetown were not designed for long-term settlement, and that "conditions are not optimal for a proper assistance there." The agency noted that a new transit camp was due to open next week at Taiama in Moyamba District to accommodate the returnees as close as possible to their home area. "Transfers will be done on a voluntary basis, but refugees who decline will eventually have to find alternative accommodation," the agency warned.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) announced Friday it would suspend an operation to return Sierra Leonean refugees from Conakry to Freetown by boat to to a lack of funding combined with the fact that relatively few refugees currently want to make the trip. The charter vessel MV Overbeck made its last voyage to Freetown on Wednesday, carrying only 150 refugees. In July, the ship made two rotations between Conakry and the Sierra Leonean capital with 365 returnees. Nearly 25,000 Sierra Leoneans have returned to Sierra Leone by boat since the IOM took over the operation from the UNHCR in January, the agency said. 

Sierra Leone ranks among the bottom ten countries in the world in terms of the efficiency of its health care system, the World Health Organization said on Friday. WHO researchers, using data from 1993 to 1997, ranked the nations according to their efficiency in turning expenditure into health. Using these criteria, Oman came in first of 191 states, followed by Malta and Italy. Britain placed 24th and the United States 72nd. Sierra Leone was ranked 183rd. But David Evans, the WHO researcher who compiled the table, stressed that the rankings were not a direct reflection of the quality of health. "This does not mean the quality of care is better in Venezuela than in, say Canada, even though it ranks higher," Reuters quoted Evans as saying. "This is an efficiency index charting what you get out compared to what you put in."

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 1800 / 2100 [£] 2800 / 2900. Commercial Bank: [$] 1850 / 2050. [£] 2590 / 2870. Frandia: [$] 2180 / 2250 [£] 2800 / 3000. Continental: [$] 2200 / 2320 [£] 2900 / 3100. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2250 / 2270 [£] 3000 / 3100.

9 August: Former Energy and Power Minister Alimamy Pallo Bangura was among 41 RUF prisoners freed from detention on Thursday, news services reported from Freetown. The 41 were among more than 100 RUF members and sympathisers locked up over a year ago following the collapse of the peace process in May 2000. The announcement of their release came one day in advance of Friday's scheduled tripartite meeting in Kenema of the Joint Committee on Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration, where the RUF was expected to press for the release of its imprisoned members. Last month, a rebel spokesman complained that of 15 detainees released by the government in early July as a confidence-building measure, only eight had actually been RUF members. Tensions rose as well over the government's admission that eight RUF detainees, including People's War Council chairman Solomon Y.B. Rogers, had died in custody. Among those freed, according to a list published by the Freetown newspaper Concord Times, were RUF Party leader Daniel Kallon, Aruna Jaward, Sylvanus K. Kamara, Mohamed Kamara II, Mariama Kanneh, John Sesay, Allieu Konneh, Mohamed S. Koroma and Santigie Koroma, Ibrahim Kamara II, Ibrahim Alpha, Thomas Sandy, Pastor Solomon Paul Steven, Daniel Sesay, Titus Tarawally, Yaryah Barrie, Osman Kamara, Mohamed Morah, Aruna Turay, Foday Kamara, Michael Y. Bona, Samura Kamara, Gibrilla Kanu, Sorie Gbla, Hassan Koroma, Amidu Kamara, Noah Turay, Yusufu Turay, Salieu Conteh, Momoh Kargbo, Morlai Mansaray, James Tamba Bayoh, Mohamed Wurie Jalloh, Salieu Conteh, Abdul Rahman Tarawally, Kai Johnny, Sulaiman Bangura, Philip Nelson, Saidu Conteh and Steven Kamara.

Guinean President Lansana Conte is likely to participate in a Mano River Union summit for talks with President Kabbah and Liberian President Charles Taylor on the ongoing conflict along their common borders, Sierra Leonean Foreign Minister Ahmed Ramadan Dumbuya (pictured right) said on Thursday. Guinea and Liberia have long accused each other of supporting rebel incursions into the other's territory, and in March Conte vowed he would never meet with Taylor. Dumbuya told the Voice of America that Conte appeared to have been swayed by a delegation of prominent women from the three Mano River Union countries. "As the women reported to us, they said President Lansana Conte had said that women were more powerful than men, that when men had failed to prevail upon him, now the women have spoken to him and he was willing," Dumbuya said. "That is what they reported to us. So we can only go by their report." Dumbuya, who travelled to Conakry this week in an attempt to persuade the Guinean president to attend the proposed summit, said no date had been set for the meeting, but he said he anticipated a three-pronged approach: "First, a fact-finding mission to establish contact with our colleague in Liberia, and then a foreign minister’s conference preparatory to the summit." Earlier in the week week, President Kabbah flew to the Nigerian capital Abuja for talks with the leaders of Nigeria and Mali on the current situation in the sub-region. Dumbuya said Kabbah had wanted to brief his colleagues on the disarmament process in Sierra Leone, and also to discuss what the foreign minister described as "new emerging challenging issues."  "As a result of the peace dividend, we are now confronted by the fact that more and more refugees are returning, more and more internally displaced people are going back to their homes," he said. "Many and many more ex-combatants are now on our hands, and we have to find a shelter for all of them, we have to feed them because this is the rainy season."

The Joint Committee on Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration will hold its fourth meeting on Friday in Kenema, the capital of Sierra Leone's Eastern Province, UNAMSIL said in a statement. The so-called Tripartite Committee is comprised of representatives from the Sierra Leone government, the RUF and the United Nations. Friday's meeting, a follow-up to last month's meeting in Bo, will assess progress made so far in the disarmament process, and examine ways to move the peace process forward. UNAMSIL, in collaboration with the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration, will present reports on the ongoing disarmament in Kono and Bonthe Districts. The reports, and the committee deliberations, will focus on the commitment of the RUF and the CDF to disarming their combatants, other developments in the Sierra Leone peace process, an update on the national recovery programme, and the future of the DDR programme, the statement said. Earlier Thursday, U.N. Special Representative Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji (pictured right), who will chair Friday's meeting, told Radio UNAMSIL on Thursday that this meeting would "concentrate more on political issues," the Reuters news agency reported. He gave no further details. "With the progress achieved in the disarmament of the diamond-rich Kono district, we need to go back to the drawing board and assess the situation which would enable us to make more progress in the peace process," Adeniji said.

United Nations peacekeepers began deploying Wednesday in Koinadugu District, the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported on Thursday. "A Bangladeshi company was sent to Kabala, the district's main town, and another company is due there today," a UNAMSIL official was quoted as saying. Last month the Tripartite Committee consisting of representatives from the Sierra Leone government, the RUF and UNAMSIL agreed to begin disarming combatants in Koinadugu and Moyamba Districts at the completion of the current disarmament exercises in Kono and Bonthe.

With the arrival in Sierra Leone of the first Pakistani battalion of peacekeepers, which was completed on July 25, UNAMSIL's troop strength has grown to 14,378, Hédi Annabi, the U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations told the Security Council on Thursday. The Council raised UNAMSIL's authorised troop strength to 17,500 last March. Annabi briefed Security Council members behind closed doors Thursday on the current situation in Sierra Leone. He noted that more than 13,000 combatants had disarmed through August 6, and that the RUF had freed more than 1,100 children during the same period. However, Annabi noted that logistical constraints, including problems in transporting combatants to disarmament centers, had impeded disarmament efforts in Kono and Bonthe Districts. On the proposed Special Court for Sierra Leone, Annabi noted an appeal from the secretary-general to donors to disburse pledges to finance the court, and to propose candidates for a prosecutor.

The Canadian-registered company DiamondWorks Ltd. will resume diamond mining in Kono with at least a $40 million investment, Mineral Resources Minister Mohamed Swarray Deen told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday. The company is listed on the Toronto stock exchange, but actually operates from South Africa. "DiamondWorks traveled to Kono District with a helicopter. They did not land but they were able to carry out an air assessment of their areas of operation," Deen said. "They have confirmed to the government that immediately the disarmament is completed and UNAMSIL give the okay to the government to reestablish its authority, the company will also want to start restart operations." The main part of the DiamondWorks concession in Koidu involves Kimberlite pipes, which requires heavier equipment than does alluvial mining. "The government is expecting something of about 300,000 carats of diamonds or well over $30 million annually from Kimberlite," Deen said. DiamondWorks has a 60 percent stake in a 25-year lease on the Koidu concession.

8 August: A troupe of Freetown actors was denied visas to attend this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland because some in the group had paid money to be included, raising suspicions that they intended to remain in the U.K., British officials said on Tuesday. "We can confirm that eleven were refused visas by the British embassy in Freetown because they did not fulfill immigration criteria for a number of different and individual reasons," a Home Office spokesman said. The acting company had been invited to present the play "Kpundeh," dealing with the aftermath of the current Sierra Leone conflict ten to fifteen years in the future. In a BBC interview on Monday, director and playwright Inaju Reuban rejected a suggestion that his actors planned to apply for asylum. But the British authorities were not convinced. "They applied at the last moment. We fast-tracked them so they could be seen quickly," a Foreign Office spokeswoman told the Reuters news agency. "As a group, their credibility was undermined as some of them admitted that they had paid a substantial amount of money to be included under the guise of artists. It was clear that some were not performers at all."

Between 150 and 200 civilians are returning every day to the RUF-held town of Makeni, the commander of the U.N.'s Nigerian peacekeeping contingent in the city told BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle. "They're encouraged by our presence and the return of security to resume their normal lives," Lieutenant-Colonel James Oladipo added. Doyle is currently travelling by road from Freetown to Koidu in order to see how the peace process is taking hold in Sierra Leone. Oladipo insisted that the rebels were committed to peace, and he said the difference between now and a year ago, when the RUF resumed hostilities and abducted over 500 U.N. personnel, was the presence of U.N. peacekeepers in Makeni. "We keep on educating and talking to them to explain that without peace there cannot be development and there cannot be commercial activities," he said. "The RUF leader, General Issa Sesay, has said any one of his men not committed to the peace process would be handled as appropriate and I believe and trust in what the RUF have said."

The United Nations Security Council is due to hold closed-door hearings Thursday morning on the situation in Sierra Leone, a spokesman said in New York.

7 August: President Kabbah met in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Tuesday with the leaders of Nigeria and Mali for more than two hours of discussions on the crisis in the West African sub-region. According to the Xinhua news agency, the three presidents welcomed the fact that in Sierra Leone "the ceasefire has continued to hold, that the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme remains on course, and the deployment of UNAMSIL deep into RUF-held areas including the diamond-mining areas." But the three expressed concern over fighting in Liberia and the "continued instability in the Mano River region," and backed a call by Kabbah for a meeting of the Mano River Union. On Monday, Kabbah announced he was trying to arrange a summit of the three-nation sub-regional body. According to the Reuters news agency, Kabbah told a peace mission of women from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia that he had sent his foreign minister to Conakry to finalise arrangements for talks in Freetown. "We cannot wait much longer," he said. Both Guinea and Liberia accuse one another of supporting insurgencies in the other's territory. In March, Guinean President Lansana Conte vowed he would never negotiate with his Liberian counterpart.

Sierra Leone's newly-restructured, British-trained army is "an army that can fight in West African circumstances pretty well," the commander of British forces has told the BBC. But Brigadier Nick Parker said that following the May 15 agreement between the government and the RUF to disarm their combatants, the situation in the country had become more complex. "What we now need to do is to develop the armed forces so that they become even more capable," Parker told BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle. "They don’t just need to be able to take a rebel organization on in a straight fight. They now need to start thinking about border security operations, support to the police operations — a wider range of activities which are quite a challenge for them. So yes, they can certainly deal with a West African bush war and they can deal with it well. No, they are not yet a fully mature army and we’ve got more work to do on that." Parker said what was needed was to rebuild the army's confidence, which had been eroded during the past decade. "I think we’re beginning to build it back," he said. "And I think if (the British forces) can stay here in certain key places, we will continue to build that confidence. If we were to go, the thing would continue, but at the moment it feels a little bit like a job not yet quite completed." Parker, who also acts as a military advisor to the Sierra Leone government, insisted that he did not know the whereabouts of imprisoned rebel leader Foday Sankoh, detained in May 2000 following the collapse of the peace process, after the RUF abducted more than 500 U.N. peacekeepers and resumed hostilities. But Parker denied that Sankoh was being held by British forces. "I think (Sankoh's whereabouts are) a matter for the prison service, for the police, a matter for the Minister of the Interior — certainly not a matter for me," he said. "I’m worried about the wider context of military security."

Members of a Sierra Leonean theatre company, the Oja Performing Arts Guild, have been forced to cancel their appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland after the British High Commission denied the actors visas, the BBC reported on Tuesday. The play, entitled "Kpundeh," meaning "problem" or "crisis" in Mende, deals with problems envisaged in Sierra Leone ten to fifteen years in the future as a result of the current conflict, director and playwright Inaju Reuban said. He added that the High Commission's decision to deny the visas, on the grounds that the actors might not return to Sierra Leone, had left the troupe physically and emotionally devastated, and he rejected suggestions that they might be planning to seek asylum in Britain. "I have a responsible thing I’m doing in this country," Reuban said. "I don’t see any reason why I’m going to hang back in England. My actors, like I said, I know that if I had gone to England and left them there, obviously the next time I go to the British embassy for visa, I wouldn’t even be bold enough to go back there. So I was going to come back with my actors and actresses." Reuban acknowledged he didn't hold out much hope that the decision would be reversed, but he said he would still like to go Edinburgh. "If it is possible for this troupe to still do this show I’ll be very, very glad to do it," he said.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, has begun transferring newly-arrived Liberian refugees in Ivory Coast to a refugee camp near Guiglo in the west of the country. The first convoy included 19 Sierra Leoneans who fled Guinea to Ivory Coast last year following the first attacks in the Guinea border region, a UNHCR spokesman said in Geneva.

6 August: UNAMSIL deputy force commander Major-General Martin Agwai has played down recent tensions between the U.N. force and the pro-government CDF militia — in particular, allegations that the CDF had failed to supply food to Donso militiamen fighting in Kono. "There are problems within every organisation, and I think the CDF is not left out," Agwai told Radio France International. "If you consider that part of the CDF came in from the eastern part of this country (which) has been completely under the RUF control — the major CDF is in the southern part. So I think they may have some communication problem or other things. But definitely it is a fact that some of the CDF in the eastern part, I personally met them on more than five occasions. And they really had problem of food. I don’t think we have a right to say totally that U.N. or UNAMSIL is annoyed with anybody on that, no." Agwai also downplayed reports that diamond mining is continuing in Kono despite a moratorium agreed by the two sides last month at a meeting of the Tripartite Committee in Bo. "I don’t think anybody announced that mining would stop," he said. "My understanding of that was that to stop people mining and enable all those who are carrying arms to go to disarm. I think that mining in Kono is a very complex issue, and I think that even at the best of the time, nobody has been able to totally stop illegal mining in Kono." Agwai said the moratorium had, in fact, assisted UNAMSIL in getting most of the combatants who were either providing security for diamond mining operations or who were actually fighting to come forward and disarm. "I think the priority now is to get everybody in Kono District to disarm," he said. "Then I think it will become easier to enforce any law you want to enforce, because it will be difficult to enforce laws when people are carrying arms." Agwai indicated the U.N. was not concerned about the possibility that some combatants in Kono might be holding on to their arms and ammunition. "It was agreed right from the beginning of the disarmament that there will be cordon-and-search based on intelligence and based on information available, and people who are found with arms and ammunition after the official disarmament are now criminals," he said.

5 August: The deadline for disarmament in Kono has been pushed back, as more combatants have already been disarmed than the total number of combatants estimated by the RUF and CDF to be in the district. But acting UNAMSIL spokesman Patrick Coker told the BBC that the U.N. was not concerned that those handing over their weapons might not actually be combatants. "We believe that as long as they are coming to the process with their weapons, it is reducing the weapons we have floating around that could be used to create any problem," Coker said. "These fighters, as long as they bring in their weapons, are helping the peace process." Coker said the combatants were surrendering light arms — AK-47s, SN rifles and GPMGs (General Purpose Machine Guns) — and he acknowledged that it was difficult to determine whether all the weapons being handed over by ex-combatants were still serviceable. "Some of them are new and some are relatively old," he said. "You will agree with me that until you use it you really don’t know if it will be effective." Coker stressed that the combatants were not being paid to turn in their arms. "After we collect the weapons from them they get demobilised and they get what we call Transitional Safety Allowance," he said, adding that the allowance it intended to allow the former fighters to return home and to "start them marginally into the normal society."

[Sports Feature by Andrew Masuba in Freetown, for the Sierra Leone Web.] The most decisive match for the Premier League championship took place Sunday before a crowd of some 10,000 spectators at Freetown's National Stadium, as the East End Lions (Red Roaring Lions) clashed with Ports Authority (the Water Front Boys). East End Lions with 14 points needed a 1-0 win so as to clinch the championship trophy. The Water Front Boys also needed a win to secure a place among the three qualifiers for the club championship and West African Football Union (WAFU) competitions.  

4 August: An advance party of 350 Pakistani peacekeepers began deploying Friday in Sierra Leone's eastern Kono District, relieving a United Nations "permanent patrol presence" of Bangladeshi troops headquartered at Magburaka (pictured left). According to a UNAMSIL statement, the advance party is setting up in the town of Yengema, and includes personnel for UNAMSIL's newly-established Sector 5 headquarters, as well as for the headquarters of the new Pakistani battalion, PAKBATT 1. 

Disarmament continued to gather momentum in Sierra Leone's eastern Kono District this week, with 1,088 combatants surrendering their weapons to U.N. peacekeepers on Friday and 319 more on Saturday, acting UNAMSIL spokesman Patrick Coker told the Sierra Leone Web. On Friday, 1,080 RUF fighters including 143 child combatants handed in their arms, while eight CDF fighters, seven of them children, did the same. On Saturday, 164 RUF disarmed, 91 of them children, along with 155 CDF, of whom 17 were child soldiers. The total number of combatants who have laid down their weapons since the disarmament process resumed in May is 14,048.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has called on Nigeria's military commanders to consider distributing condoms to her troops in an effort to curb the spread of AIDS among members of the country's armed forces. According to the Reuters news agency, Nigerian military commanders say hundreds of soldiers returning from peacekeeping duties in Sierra Leone and Liberia were found to be infected with the HIV virus which causes AIDS. "You must not allow AIDS to ravage our armed forces," Obasanjo told top-ranking military officers on Saturday during a one-day retreat in the city of Ibadan. "During my time (in the military) it was an offence to contract a sexually transmitted disease," he added. "Now it's only an offence if you conceal it."

[Sports Feature by Andrew Masuba in Freetown, for the Sierra Leone Web.] As the race for the Premier League championship enters its last stage, Real Republicans (the Real People), with eight points and still in danger of relegation should they lose, clashed Saturday with the hot favorites Mighty Blackpool (the Tis-Tas Boys), who have 16 points.  A win would automatically make them champions.  

3 August: Representatives from Sierra Leone's warring sides gathered this week in the Swiss town of Caux sur Montreaux for a conference on peace-building, sponsored by an arm of the Swiss Foundation for Moral Rearmament, Agenda for Reconciliation. Former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma (pictured right), who is now chairman of the government's Commission for the Consolidation of Peace, travelled to Switzerland for the week-long conference, Elizabeth Lavalie, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament. Omrie Golley (left), the chairman of the RUF's Political and Peace Council, was also present. The Sierra Leoneans are among some 400 persons from 60 countries examining various peace-building and conflict-resolution issues. Koroma and Golley, who are subject to separate international United Nations travel bans, were granted waivers by the U.N. Security Council to attend. The conference, which started on Sunday, runs through August 5.

Sierra Leone's Permanent Representative to the United Nations called on the Security Council Thursday to take action to implement decisions taken at last month's U.N. conference on small arms proliferation. "The issue of follow-up has only just begun," Ambassador Ibrahim Kamara told Sierra Council members, adding that the Council should emphasise the need for member states to pursue "radical programmes...aimed at building a greater consensus on the prevention, combat and virtual eradication of the illicit trade in small arms." Kamara suggested that peacekeeping forces could work in cooperation with various U.N. agencies to address the issues of collection, storage, control and destruction of light weapons. "It is simply not good enough to issue presidential statements and resolutions that have very little meaningful effect on their intended recipients," Kamara warned. He said Sierra Leone would like to see "much more potent action emanating from those statements and resolutions, which would have an appropriately direct bearing and reverberating effect on those intended recipients." The ambassador called for member states to advocate stricter norms in international law to put an end to what he called "the culture of impunity," warning that otherwise the lucrative trade in small arms would continue unabated. Kamara also called on the Security Council to adopt measures which would insure that member states involved in the manufacture and marketing of small arms be forced to comply with international law.

RUF leaders, who this week blocked the planned deployment of some 700 policemen to the rebel-held northern towns of Makeni and Magburaka, say they need more time to sensitise residents of the two towns, acting UNAMSIL spokesman Patrick Coker said on Friday. "They said they needed to sensitise their people, and they requested for some more time to do this," he told Radio France International. Coker noted that the deployment was part of the process of extending government authority throughout the country, and he pointed out that RUF combatants in the area had not yet been disarmed. "We do not foresee any major problems in such deployment.," he said. "But because it is a peace process, all parties must show consent for such deployment to take place." Coker pointed to reported plans by Makeni residents to welcome the returning policemen with a human chain as a sign that peace was returning to Sierra Leone. "I can also assure you that UNAMSIL peacekeepers on the ground have done a lot of work to sensitise the public and make them realise that peace is really returning to the country," he said.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 1850 / 2100 [£] 2800 / 3000. Commercial Bank: [$] 1800 / 2000. [£] 2750 / 3000. Frandia: [$] 2220 / 2300 [£] 2900 / 3000. NIMO: [$] 2200 / 2350 [£] 2900 / 3100. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2250 / 2260 [£] 3050 / 3100.

2 August: Junior doctors employed by the government began an indefinite strike Wednesday to press their demands for better pay and working conditions. The work stoppage followed an eleven-day strike notice, with the doctors complaining they hadn't been paid in nearly a year, while hospital conditions were deteriorating. In a BBC interview on Thursday Sahr Kortequee, the Secretary-General of the Sierra Leone Association of Medical Doctors, denied that the doctors were sacrificing the health of patients just to increase their salaries. "Though we are asking for an improvement in our conditions of service, these ones probably form only a small part of what we want," he said. "If you have a hospital that has no emergency facilities, there are no emergency drugs available —  If a person in the street falls down with a diabetic attack or any emergency, even is hit by a bicycle...the hospitals, there is not a single aspirin or Panadol provided free of charge. Everything in the hospitals is for sale." Kortequee acknowledged that some patients might die because of the strike action, but said that if the government met doctors' demands that others might be saved in the future. "If we decide to stay away from work, it’s possible that the mortality would increase," he said "But if the people support us, and if government listens to us and decides to make a positive change —  and then all that we are asking for, emergency drugs, improve the sanitary conditions of the hospital. If all these ones are done, then we’re sure we’ll be able to reduce mortality significantly. So in the long run I think that the patients themselves would have to benefit."

625 RUF and 449 CDF combatants disarmed Tuesday in Sierra Leone's eastern Kono District, acting UNAMSIL spokesman Patrick Coker (pictured left) told the Sierra Leone Web on Thursday. This latest surge in disarmament means 1,377 RUF and 1,359 CDF combatants have given up their arms in Kono. In Bonthe District, a stronghold of pro-government forces, 279 CDF combatants have been disarmed on Bonthe Island and peninsula, and 789 in the town of Mattru. The total number of combatants who have laid down their weapons since disarmament resumed in May is 10,735: 3,667 RUF, 6,899 CDF and 169 ex-SLA/AFRC.

Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji (pictured right), the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, travelled to Sierra Leone's Northern Province Thursday to launch the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Community Sensitation Programme in Makeni. According to a UNAMSIL statement the programme, conducted jointly by UNAMSIL's Human Rights Section and the Northern Region Working Group —  a coalition of local human rights organisations —  seeks to explain at the community level the role of the TRC in Sierra Leone's peace process. The chief of the the Human Rights Section, Rodolfo Mattarollo, stressed that the TRC would promote healing for victims of human rights abuses, advance the reconciliation process, and break the cycle of impunity. "The TRC would gather a historical record and provide a balanced account of the Sierra Leonean conflict," he said. "It would allow perpetrators to apologize to victims and victims to forgive perpetrators. It would also encourage victims to give information in confidence and perpetrators to take responsibility for crimes committed. This is what we are working towards." RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi, who recently has voiced reservations over the establishment of a Special Court for Sierra Leone, said the rebel group would support the TRC because it was one of the most important provisions of the 1999 Lomé Peace Accord, the UNAMSIL statement said. Also present for Thursday's launching ceremony were the Bishop of Makeni, George Biguzzi (pictured left), Sierra Leone Council of Churches Secretary-General Alimamy Koroma, and human rights organisations such as the Sierra Leone Forum of Conscience and the National Forum for Human Rights.

Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman has described as unfounded allegations made on Tuesday by UNAMSIL that he had failed to cooperate with the disarmament process in Kono, the Freetown newspaper Concord Times reported. UNAMSIL, in response to a BBC interview last week in which Norman had accused U.N. peacekeepers of deliberately stalling the disarmament process, also suggested that the Kono Donso militia had refused to take instructions from Norman, who is also the National Coordinator of the Civil Defence Forces. Instead, the UNAMSIL statement said, the militiamen told U.N. peacekeepers they would only take orders from their local and chiefs. Norman denied this. "All CDF are under my command," he said, adding that the U.N. would achieve nothing by going through local chiefs instead of working with the CDF High Command. But Norman stressed that this latest war of words would not affect the disarmament process. "No amount of jealousy will stop the move to make Sierra Leone free of arms," the newspaper quoted him as saying.

Applications for the United States diversity immigrant visa programme for 2003 must be received during October 2001, the U.S. Department of State announced on Thursday, adding that applications received before and after October, or which are improperly filled out or mailed would be disqualified. The U.S. diversity lottery offers permanent residency visas to natives of countries which send under 50,000 immigrants to the United States. Winners, who are selected by random computer-generated drawing, must then show that they meet stipulated educational standards and other requirements. Winners will be notified by mail between April and June 2002, and will have until 30 September 2003 to process their applications.

1 August: Hundreds of RUF combatants disarmed Tuesday at sites in Kono Districts, and hundreds more were expected to hand over their weapons to United Nations peacekeepers on Wednesday and Thursday, according to a statement by the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR). The rush came after RUF interim leader General Issa Sesay (pictured left) gave orders on Monday that all rebel combatants should disarm by July 31. This resulted in more RUF fighters turning up at disarmament centres than could be processed in a single day, the statement said. NCDDR and UNAMSIL officials are now working to adjust the disarmament and demobilisation process in Kono to handle the surge in disarmament. The NCDDR said it would establish an end date for the disarmament of both RUF and CDF combatants in consultation with the Tripartite Committee, comprised of representatives of the Sierra Leone government, the RUF, and UNAMSIL. 

RUF rebels blocked the planned deployment of Sierra Leone police in the northern towns of Makeni and Magburaka on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. The deployment was agreed a week ago in a meeting attended by RUF and U.N. officials and Police Inspector-General Keith Biddle. The news agency quoted Police Inspector Dominic Kargbo as saying the rebels had raised the issue of the death in prison last month of Solomon Rogers, the head of the RUF's People's War Council, in preventing the deployment. United Nations and British officials left for the area Wednesday in an effort to resolve the impasse, the AP said.

Colonel Gabriel Mani, the Sierra Leone Army's Director of Training, was freed on bail Wednesday after appearing in Magistrates Court in Freetown. Mani was arrested along with 38 others in June, after a cordon-and-search operation turned up a cache of arms and ammunition in his compound. The magistrate warned Mani to stay away from military installations, while Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa pleaded with the colonel not to return to the bush, a source in Freetown told the Sierra Leone Web.

Sierra Leone is one of 17 sub-Saharan African countries facing exceptional food emergencies this year, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation said in a new report published on Wednesday. The report, "Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa," cited civil strife and population displacement as having disrupted the production and marketing of crops during the past year. As a result of low food production in 2000 and transport problems, the report said, the food situation in the country remains tight. "Planting of the rice crop started in mid-April with the onset of rains, and growing conditions are favourable so far," the FAO report said. "Rice production should increase this year, reflecting increased planted area by returning farmers and improved conditions for distribution of inputs. However, the country remains heavily dependent on food aid." Neighbouring Guinea and Liberia also made the FAO's list, along with Angola, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea; Kenya, Niger, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.