28 August: A traffic jam of former fighters seeking to cross the Liberian border into Sierra Leone with their loot was building Thursday, while Sierra Leonean soldiers manned machine gun nests to prevent combatants from crossing the Mano River Bridge, the Associated Press reported. "We have come under pressure...to allow them passage across the bridge into Sierra Leone with their personal effects – war booty," Lieutenant-Colonel Salifu Lawrence Conteh told a visiting military inspection team. Conteh said he had no count how many combatants were waiting to cross, but that the number was "large." Many of the rebels have offered to disarm to Sierra Leone's forces to be allowed to cross, he said, adding that about 80 percent of the fighters were born in Sierra Leone, and that many of them were seeking to return with wives and children they had acquired over the 14 years of conflict in Liberia. The movement to the border began following former Liberian President Charles Taylor's resignation and flight into exile on August 11, Conteh said. On the Liberian side, LURD rebel commander General Mohamed Tarawallie said the fighters wanted the bridge reopened to restore trade and to reunite families and communities divided by the war. "There is no cause for concern, and there is perfect peace for Sierra Leone," he said.
U.S. Ambassador Peter Chaveas handed over the newly refurbished Koidu Government Hospital to President Kabbah Tuesday at a ceremony in Sierra Leone's eastern Kono District, following a U.S.-funded restoration effort which cost more than half a million dollars. The project to refurbish the war-damaged hospital was overseen by the French non-governmental organisation Premier Urgence, with 80 percent of the labour provided by local people, including former combatants and returned refugees. Improvements included the rehabilitation of the surgical theatre and maternity ward, the construction of an under-5 ward, the rehabilitation of outpatient facilities, the reconstruction of the dispensary and administrative offices and a general face-lift to the building. According to a U.S. Embassy statement, the new hospital is now complete and is ready to provide health care services for the people of Kono District. Chaveas said a similar restoration of the Kailahun Hospital was underway and will be complete in two months.
President Kabbah on Tuesday formally launched the "Kono Diamond Peace Alliance," a coalition aimed at cleaning up the diamond mining sector in Sierra Leone and returning it to profitability. In a statement, the U.S. Embassy called the Alliance "an important step towards improving control and management of Sierra Leone's diamond industry," which has been plagued for years by smuggling, money laundering, corruption and unfair labour practices. In 2002, only $41 million of, by one estimate, $300 million worth of diamonds mined in Sierra Leone were exported legally. U.S. Ambassador Peter Chaveas (pictured right) noted that little of the benefits of the country's diamond wealth goes to the ordinary Sierra Leonean. "My government is firmly of the view that there can be no lasting peace in Sierra Leone, indeed no lasting peace in this region, until fundamental change assures that more of the wealth of Kono stays in Kono and more of the wealth of Sierra Leone stays in Sierra Leone," he said. "There is no other way to assure that the youth of this country are offered a future that does not involve violence. And there is no other way to insure that Sierra Leone diamonds do not continue to merit the label of 'blood diamonds,' because we must not lose sight of the fact that the same diamonds that once financed the terrorism perpetrated by the RUF may now or in the future support the activities of terrorist organizations elsewhere in the world." The Kono Diamond Peace Alliance comprises the Government of Sierra Leone, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Britain's Department for International Development (DfID), industry experts, community representatives and others.
The Chinese government has donated 300 pieces of furniture to furnish the Special Court's new facility in New England, the court said in a statement. In a ceremony on Thursday, Chinese Ambassador Fan Guinjin said the donation was made in response to an appeal by the United Nations Security Council, and was targeted toward the specific needs of the court. Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced Thursday the appointment of Gambian Judge Hassan Bubacarr Jallow as Chief Prosecutor of the Rwanda war crimes tribunal in Arusha. Jallow had previously been named as an appeals judge for the Special Court for Sierra Leone. According to the Associated Press, Security Council President Fayssal Mekdad said the Security Council may meet on Friday to endorse the appointment of Jallow to a four-year term as head of the Rwanda tribunal.
26 August: 186 persons aboard the ship MV Overbeck, among them 154 Sierra Leonean refugees, remain adrift after the vessel's engine broke down on Sunday. The Overbeck was chartered by the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) to repatriate thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees from the war-torn Liberian capital, Monrovia. The Sierra Leoneans boarded the ship on Friday and have now spent more than 80 hours at sea. A UNHCR spokesman said the U.S. Navy's USS Carter Hall and a World Food Programme ship rushed to the Overbeck's assistance. An attempt to repair the ship's engines failed, and the option of towing the Overbeck to port is now being considered. The refugees aboard the stranded vessel were reported to be well, and the ship has sufficient food and water. The UNHCR has received assurances that any medical needs of the passengers will be attended to by the USS Carter Hall's medical staff. Meanwhile, the UNHCR has returned 350 Sierra Leoneans who sought refuge at the UNHCR compound in Monrovia back to their camps.
25 August: Police in Makeni said Monday they were searching for the body of the late RUF leader Foday Sankoh after someone removed his corpse from its grave under cover of night. "Sankoh's body is missing from the grave – the grave has been checked and...the body is no longer to be seen," a police official told Reuters. Sankoh died on July 29 in the custody of the U.N.-backed Special Court, which indicted the former rebel leader for war crimes last March. He was buried on August 3 in his home town of Masang, near Magburaka. According to the Associated Press, police who visited the grave site found the body gone and the grave covered so as to hide any sign that the body had been there.
The United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative for Liberia, Jacques Klein (pictured right), met in Freetown Monday with President Kabbah and Vice President Berewa in what a U.N. spokesman described as the first in a series of meetings with regional leaders to discuss the situation in Liberia. Klein also met with U.S. Ambassador Peter Chaveas, Special Court Chief Prosecutor David Crane, and senior UNAMSIL staff. According to a UNAMSIL statement, Klein expressed concern over the continuing serious humanitarian situation in Liberia, but noted that U.N. agencies were now rushing relief supplies to the war-torn country. He added that it was up to the international community to make Liberia work. A failed Liberia, he stressed, "will spell disaster for Sierra Leone and the sub-region." The new U.N. Special Representative announced he would be going to New York in ten days time to present a report to the Security Council. He expressed hope that a U.N. mandate for a peacekeeping force in Liberia would be forthcoming between mid-September and the beginning of October. Klein said he was working well with Liberian President Moses Blah, and expressed hope that the transitional government which succeeds him in October will live up to expectations. "I expect it to be a government of technocrats," he said. Klein also decried reports of continuing fighting in some parts of Liberia, despite the signing by the warring factions of a peace agreement. "There is fighting in isolated parts," he said. "There is no command and control among the fighters. This will go on until sufficient U.N. troops are on the ground. When they know we have more guns than they do, they will stop."
A U.S. naval ship went the the aid of the UNHCR-chartered vessel MV Overbeck Sunday as the ship drifted in stormy seas off the coast of Liberia, a UNHCR spokesperson said. The Overbeck was carrying nearly 200 Sierra Leonean refugees from Monrovia to Freetown. The USS Carter Hall arrived in the early hours of the morning and docked beside the Overbeck for the rest of the night. A WFP ship also sailed from Monrovia to help the stricken vessel. The spokesperson said the passengers and crew were not in danger.
Aid workers who visited two of the refugee camps on the outskirts of Monrovia for the first time since fighting engulfed the Liberian capital were shocked by what they found, UNHCR spokesperson Millicent Mutuli told the Voice of America. "The situation remains very, very desperate," she said. "People do not have adequate supplies of food or water. There is need for health care. The situation is as dire as we have been fearing for some time. The camps had been home to many of the estimated 13,500 Sierra Leonean refugees still in Liberia. Many of them fled to the bush, or into the city centre. On Tuesday, aid agencies travelled to Bo Waterside, on Liberia's border with Sierra Leone, to explore the possibility of opening corridors for humanitarian aid. The mission noted that bad roads between Bo Waterside and Zimmi and a lack of security guarantees may impede plans to transport Sierra Leonean refugees by land. A U.N.-chartered ship, the MV Overbeck, resumed repatriation voyages a week ago, but its capacity is limited to 300 passengers per trip. Aid agencies also visited the town of Tubmanburg, about 40 miles north of Monrovia, where an estimated 20,000 persons had been displaced by recent fighting. There, they found people surviving mostly on cassava leaves and palm cabbage and in desperate need of food, health care and sanitation. Some 38,000 refugees from Ivory Coast are in eastern Liberia, in areas still inaccessible to aid workers. Mutuli said aid workers were making daily visits to the camps around Monrovia to help give the refugees the confidence to return. "Yesterday some of our staff who visited the camps also talked to groups of refugees on the possibility of setting up of neighborhood watches, at least for the night, so that there is more vigilance," she said. "We're not where we should be, but these are the first steps."
Finnish police said Monday they had found most of the 13 young soccer players who stayed behind after their team was eliminated from the U-17 World Cup, but that the players were likely to seek asylum, the Reuters news agency reported. The Sierra Stars team was to have left for home on Thursday, but 13 players and a team official failed to show up for the flight. Police in the southern city of Lahti, where the team played its matches, said they had not been able to interview the players and could not confirm whether any had sought asylum. "Over half of them have been found, all outside of Lahti," a police spokesman said. "We haven't talked to them yet, but we will do that by the end of the week to see what their intentions were. It is possible they applied for asylum."
24 August: Thousands of people lined the streets of Freetown Sunday as the body of former President Joseph Saidu Momoh was borne in a colonial-era gun carriage to the Kissy Road Cemetery, the Reuters news agency reported. Earlier, President Kabbah joined friends and relatives to pay final respects as the late president's body late in state in the parliament building.
The Milton Margai School for the Blind, founded in Freetown just under fifty years ago, suffered during the decade of Sierra Leone's brutal civil war. It was evacuated during the military coup in 1997, and the building was bombed during the rebel invasion of the capital in 1999. In fact, some of the students were blinded by rebels during the conflict. This month, the school's choir is touring the U.K. to show the world a new image of Sierra Leone: an image of hope. "We want to say thank you (to Britain) for helping us put an end to the war," said Headmaster Sam Campbell, who is accompanying the 34-member group. In their first performance, at Leicester Square in the heart of the British capital, the youths entertained Londoners with songs in Krio such as "You Eat Me Money" and "Fine Boy Fine Girl." Since then, the choir has performed at churches and military bases. This Friday they will end their tour with a concert in front of 2,400 people at the Methodist Hall in London's Parliament Square. Thirteen Mayors of London are expected to attend. In Sierra Leone, the students face a struggle in a society which often does not value the disabled. But with their motto, "We cannot see, but we will conquer," the students are clearly expecting a better future – for themselves, and for their country Sierra Leone.
23 August: Former Police Inspector-General Walter O. Nicol, who as Chief Electoral Commissioner helped guide his country through the May 2002 presidential and parliamentary elections, died early Saturday at a London hospital where he was being treated for throat cancer. He was 59. Nicol received his bachelor's degree from Fourah Bay College in 1967. He joined the police force after graduation, eventually becoming Principal Immigration Officer, a post he held for many years. He eventually became Inspector-General of Police until his retirement in 1995. He studied policing extensively, earning a Masters degree in Police Studies from Oxford University. After his retirement he worked as a consultant on several projects. He was named Chief Electoral Commissioner and head of the National Electoral Commission in 2001. Nicol is survived by his wife Valerie and four children.
Footballer Maxwell Fornah, nicknamed "Amputee Kallon," was in school when he heard the sound of gunfire from his village. He tried to run home to be with his family during the imminent RUF attack, but a rebel shot him in the back of the leg. After weeks of severe pain without medical attention, Red Cross workers intervened to save his life, but they were forced to amputate his by now gangrenous leg. Fornah now lives at the amputee camp in the Freetown suburb of Murraytown. This month, Fornah and his fellow Sierra Leonean amputee soccer players are visiting Britain to measure themselves against the best of the English amputee teams. In their first match on Wednesday the Sierra Leoneans lost 2-1 to Southend on a disputed goal. And although they rallied from their disappointing loss to come back with a strong effort against Everton on Thursday, they lost 4-0 against what proved to be a very strong Everton side. Two of the Everton players were professional football players before they lost their legs. "They had never played a competitive game before they came here, so theirs is a steep learning curve," press officer Kathryn McNicoll told the Sierra Leone Web. "They are (said to be) learning fast. However, they also have a lot to learn and so, although I know that losing is not in their vocabulary, I hope they can come away with a positive outlook on the tour. They were so positive when I met them the day they arrived, even though they were exhausted after the long flight." The team will take part in a mini-tournament in Manchester on the 24th, and play in a demonstration match at Luton on the 30th. The tour ends with a friendly against the English national team at Fulham on August 31. Apart from the experience, the Sierra Leoneans are looking for a long-term working relationship with Britain's Single Leg Amputee Sports Club (SLASC), and with the charity Action for Children in Conflict (AFC), which sponsored the team's "Play for Hope" tour.
Britain's new High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Dr. John Edward Mitchiner, presented his credentials to President Kabbah Friday in a ceremony at the presidential lodge. In his statement, Mitchiner said the United Kingdom remained committed to a strong and active involvement in Sierra Leone, and would work to ensure a peaceful democratic future for Sierra Leone. "It will remain vital, for the continuing evolution of Sierra Leone, to press forward with post-conflict priorities such as reforming the security sector; bringing the diamond fields under the full control of the Government of Sierra Leone; tackling the scourge of corruption and developing your industry and economy," he said. Mitchiner, 52, began his diplomatic career in 1980. His most recent postings were as Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata (Calcutta) India (2000-2003) and as Ambassador to Armenia (1997-1999). He has also served as Desk Officer of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Central African Department. He received a PhD from London University's School of Oriental and African Studies in 1977. From 1977-1978 he was a research fellow at Visva Bharati University in Santiniketan and from 1978-1979 the Bipradas Palchoudhuri Fellow Calcutta University. He replaces former High Commissioner Alan Jones, who has moved on to another diplomatic assignment.
22 August: Liberian President Moses Blah expressed regret Friday for his country's role in Sierra Leone's civil war, and assured Sierra Leoneans in a live television broadcast that "the past will not be repeated." Blah, accompanied by ECOWAS officials, is on a regional tour to meet with the leaders of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Nigeria. The former vice president took over Liberia's government last week following the departure of Charles Taylor, who stands accused of backing Sierra Leone's RUF rebels during the country's civil war. According to the Associated Press, Blah was welcomed to Freetown by military bands and an honour guard. President Kabbah welcomed him in a ceremony at Lungi International Airport. "We have come to extend our hand of friendship to the people of Sierra Leone," Blah said. "What has happened in the past will not be repeated. Even if it calls upon us to apologise to the people of Sierra Leone, we will. We are brothers. We are one." Blah invited the Sierra Leonean leader to visit Monrovia, and Kabbah accepted. "I look forward to walking in the streets of Monrovia with you," he said. "This is the beginning of civilized existence between our two peoples. If there is peace in Liberia, then there will be peace in Sierra Leone." Kabbah said his government had no problem with the people of Liberia, but only with Taylor. "We have a problem with one man," he said. "We shall treat him as an individual."
At least three of the missing Sierra Stars players players have turned up in Helsinki and may already have applied for asylum in Finland, the Reuters news agency reported on Friday. "Three people have been found in Helsinki and the police know about them. They have possibly applied for asylum," police spokesman Aimo Ojanen said. Ojanen said three other persons spotted in the capital overnight were also probably team members. "It is probable that the missing youngsters will be found in the Helsinki region in a few days," Ojanen said in a statement. He said the players did not have their passports on them, as they were held by team officials who flew back to Sierra Leone on Thursday. They had only a small amount of cash. Finnish officials declined to comment on asylum cases, saying all such issues were handled in secrecy. "In a normal case we talk to the applicants and the process could easily take months," a police official told Reuters. FIFA, in a statement, said that twelve players and two officials failed to show up for their flight home. Reuters reported that thirteen officials and one player from the 28-member squad remained behind. The Sierra Leonean delegation to the FIFA Under-17 World Championships consisted of twenty players and eight officials.
21 August: Fourteen members of Sierra Leone's national Under-17 team failed to show up Thursday at the Helsinki airport for their scheduled flight home, soccer's world governing body FIFA said in a statement. Police in the Finnish city of Lahti, where the team played its matches, say they are investigating the disappearance of the team members. The Sierra Stars qualified for the FIFA World Championships in Finland with a second-place finish at the CAF U-17 Championship in Swaziland, but managed only a single draw in their three World Championship matches. Twenty players were listed on the team's roster.
Funeral services for former President Joseph Saidu Momoh will take place Sunday at the Samaria West African Methodist Church in Freetown, according to a statement by the president's office. Momoh passed away on August 2nd in the Guinean capital Conakry where he lived in exile. The former president's body will lie in state in the State Hall of the Parliament building prior to the service. He will be buried at Kissy Road Cemetery. President Kabbah opened a condolence book for the late president Thursday at State House. The book will remain open until until Saturday, the statement said.
Representatives of Liberia's warring factions meeting in Accra have selected Gyude Bryant, to chair the transitional government charged with leading the war-torn country out of 14 years of civil conflict until elections in 2005. The 54-year old businessman was one of three candidates for the post put forward by Liberia's political parties and civil society groups on Monday. Bryant finished third in Monday's balloting, but the BBC members of the government and rebel groups saw him as more neutral than his two opponents, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Rudolph Sherman. He was also said to be the least well-known the of the three candidates in Liberia. Bryant is a Monrovia-based businessman who deals in port handling equipment, and the leader of the minor political party, the Liberia Action Party. He is also a leading official in Liberia's Episcopal Church. Long time political opposition leader Wesley Johnson of the United People's Party was chosen as the vice chairman. The transitional government will take power on October 14, at the end of the current government's term in office. The Chief Mediator at the ECOWAS-sponsored peace talks in Accra, former Nigerian leader Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, and other ECOWAS officials are now preparing to fly to Monrovia to meet with President Moses Blah. They then intend to accompany Blah on a regional tour, to Conakry, Freetown, Abidjan and Abuja, to try and seal the peace process, news services reported.
REACTION to the selection of Gyude Bryant as the chairman of Liberia's transitional government.
20 August: A 3-2 loss to South Korea's Taeguk Warriors Wednesday has ended the Sierra Stars' slip hope of reaching the quarterfinals at the U-17 World Championships in Finland. Han Dong Won fired a curling shot off his right foot to score for South Korea in the 28th minute, but Obi Metzger evened the score eight minutes later when he kicked in a deflected shot from Kalie Jalloh. The Sierra Leoneans went ahead briefly in the second half when Metzger scored at the 51 minute mark. After that, however, it was all South Korea. Yang Dong Hyen equalised in the 74th minute and Lee Yong Rae scored the Warriors in the 78th to secure the win. Sierra Leone drew a tough match against Spain, then lost a hard-fought battle with the U.S.
Exiled Liberian leader Charles Taylor still poses a threat to peace in his country and will be arrested and sent to Sierra Leone if he ever tries to return home, the U.S. Secretary-General's Special Representative for Liberia said on Wednesday. "Charles Taylor with a cell phone is still almost a government in exile, potentially quite dangerous," Jacques Paul Klein told the Reuters news service. Taylor faces war crimes charges before the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, and Klein said that if Taylor should try to make good on his pledge to return to Liberia he would quickly be turned over to the court. "He would be arrested. I would love to do that," Klein said. A United Nations peacekeeping force is slated to replace the West African peacekeeping force ECOMIL in October, and Klein said the U.N. would then be authorised to take Taylor into custody. "The moment you have a United Nations mission, once you have a mandate, not only are you authorized to arrest a war criminal but you are mandated to execute the warrant of the court," he said. Klein rejected talk of any deal for Taylor which would see the charges against him dropped. "Never. Otherwise you set a precedent; you can be a dictator and if you kill enough people and you wait long enough you'll get away with it," he said. "You cannot afford to have that happen in the 21st century."
19 August: Liberian political parties and civil society groups meeting in Accra have narrowed the list of candidates to head the country's transitional government from 17 to 3. In balloting late Tuesday, veteran opposition politician Ellen Johnson Sirleaf received the most votes, followed by Rudolph Sherman of the former ruling True Whig Party. Monrovia-based businessman Gyude Bryant of the Liberia Action Party finished in third place after a three-way runoff election. Under the peace agreement signed last week, Liberia's warring parties – the current government and the LURD and MODEL rebel groups – must choose by consensus one of the three to chair the interim government. This is expected to take place on Wednesday. The new administration will take over on October 14, at the expiration of the current government's term in office, and will lead the country until elections in January 2005. The warring factions were barred from the seeking the posts of chairman and vice chairman, but each group will have 15 representatives in the transitional government. In addition, the current government will receive the Defence and Internal Affairs portfolio; LURD will get the Finance and Justice ministry, and MODEL will receive the post of Foreign Affairs.
Sierra Leone's Ministry of Health and Sanitation has reported one confirmed case and 45 suspected cases of yellow fever in Tonkolili District, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday. A joint investigative mission from the ministry, WHO and UNICEF took place from August 7-10 and samples collected on site are currently undergoing laboratory testing. According to the WHO statement, surveillance has been strengthened in the affected areas and plans are in place for an immunisation campaign to begin this week. The ministry has a stock of yellow fever vaccine available to cover the affected population. Additional samples are being collected for testing in surrounding districts.
Several aid workers were briefly held hostage during a protest by more than 9,000 Liberian refugees at a camp in Sierra Leone over delayed food supplies, the BBC reported on Tuesday. No one was injured, and officials later negotiated the hostages' release.
A senior United Nations official who helped to keep the humanitarian crisis in Sierra Leone in front of the international community during the country's civil war was killed Tuesday in a terrorist attack on the U.N. headquarters in Iraq. At least 17 persons died and many more were injured or remain buried in the rubble after a suicide bomber drove a truck bomb into the U.N.'s headquarters at Baghdad's Canal Hotel. The U.N. confirmed that Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N.'s Special Representative for Iraq, was among those killed. A Brazilian diplomat and a veteran of peacekeeping operations from the Balkans to East Timor to Africa, Vieira de Mello formerly served as the U.N.'s Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. Following a visit to Sierra Leone during the country's civil war in June 1998, he described rebel atrocities against civilians as among the worst he had ever experienced. "I have close to 29 years of experience with these conflicts I had not seen something like this before," he said. "There is a pattern of cruelty against civilians without discrimination, including children. The pattern is one of amputations, of lacerations, of maiming of civilians – men, women of any age including children. Hands are cut, ears and noses are amputated." United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who cut short his European holiday Monday to return to New York, issued an angry statement condemning the bombing. "Nothing can excuse this act of unprovoked and murderous violence against men and women who went to Iraq for one purpose only: to help the Iraqi people recover their independence and sovereignty, and to rebuild their country as fast as possible, under leaders of their own choosing," Annan said, adding: "I hope to see those who have perpetrated this outrage brought to justice."
18 August: Liberia's warring factions signed a peace agreement Monday, raising hopes for an end to 14 years of civil conflict. The pact, signed in Accra by representatives of the Liberian government and the LURD and MODEL rebel groups, paves the way for a two-year transitional government in which none of the three factions will hold the top posts. The transitional government will take over from President Moses Blah in October, and democratic elections will be held no later than 2005. The head of the new administration, who will not come from any of the warring factions, is expected to be chosen later this week.
REACTION to the signing of the Liberian peace agreement:
A Sierra Leonean ship chartered by the aid agency World Vision to transport badly-needed relief supplies to war-torn Monrovia has sunk in a storm, a spokesman for the agency has told news services. The Madam Monique reportedly broke apart off the coast of Sierra Leone some time Saturday night after battling a storm for ten hours. The 19 crew members managed to swim ten kilometres to shore before being rescued by a helicopter. According to a World Vision press release, the ship was carrying $186,000 of relief goods including 15,000 blankets, 4.8 tons of laundry soap, 1,200 plastic buckets, 4,000 water cans and 1,200 sleeping mats, four generators, 24 drums of diesel and eight drums of gasoline. World Vision was planning to distribute the items to 21,000 Monrovia residents. News reports and several spokespersons for World Vision initially named the boat as the Madam Patricia, a vessel which had been chartered last year to ply the waters between Bonthe and Freetown. A World Vision statement subsequently named it as the 140-ton Madam Monique.
Sierra Leone's Anti-Corruption Commission struggled last year, with no cases brought to trial, little significant movement on cases pending in 2001, and fewer additions during 2002, according to the Commission's 2002 report which was presented to President Kabbah last week. While recording a few modest successes, Anti-Corruption Commissioner Val Collier (pictured right) said that because the Anti-Corruption Act (2000) provided no penalties for failing to cooperate with the Commission, many government ministries and departments simply ignored the Commission or refused to comply with its requests and recommendations. Collier also expressed frustration over what he said was "the rather lukewarm attitude of the judiciary, which after two years has yet to take a single matter of adjudication to a final conclusion," and "a level of disinterestedness" by Parliament. While investigators are already over-burdened, Collier said a decision by the Attorney-General to take anti-corruption cases directly to the High Court meant the Commission had to retake 119 witness statements under oath had caused a significant delay especially as 46 of the witnesses were from outside of Freetown. Collier also pointed to the problem of inadequate legal staff which, he said, meant that cases turned over by the Commission had not been prosecuted. President Kabbah, according to the Office of the Presidency website, registered strong disappointment over the apparent slow progress and lack of tangible results in both the investigation and the prosecution of corruption-related cases. Kabbah said he had often been embarrassed while abroad by questions about the huge backlog of corruption cases awaiting action, including matters pertaining to two former ministers and a former High Court judge. The president called the backlog of cases turned over by the Commission to the Attorney-General's office hard to justify, and he called for the prompt replacement of magistrates who might be responsible for stalling corruption trials. "Donors are watching…and our people are very critical," he said. "We have to show that we are serious and committed."
17 August: The Sierra Stars lost to the United States 2-1 Sunday at their U-17 World Championship match in Lahti, Finland. Alimamy Sesay drew first blood, with a goal in the 32nd minute, but the score was evened at the 45 minute mark on a penalty shot off the foot of U.S. midfielder Guillermo "Memo" Gonzalez. Ghanaian-born football sensation Freddy Adu scored in the 89th minute to seal the U.S. win. Spain, which scored a 96th minute goal to tie Sierra Leone on Thursday, defeated South Korea 3-2 to take over second place in Group D. In Group C, Brazil decimated Portugal 5-0 Sunday, while Cameroon and Yemen battled to a 1-1 draw.
President Kabbah told a group of Liberian and Sierra Leonean youths Friday that former Liberian President Charles Taylor would not escape trial on war crimes charges in Sierra Leone. "Even if (the Special Court) does not get him, or he doesn't appear in court, the charges will remain," Kabbah said. "The refusal to appear in court and answer to the charges against him means Charles Taylor has got some thing to hide." According to the Office of the President, Kabbah said Taylor had orchestrated Sierra Leone's civil war while benefiting from the country's diamonds and other resources, and that his government would take legal action to seek compensation from Taylor's frozen accounts. "We will be going after that money," the president said. At the request of the Special Court, the Swiss authorities said last month they had frozen the bank bank accounts of two unnamed Taylor associates containing about $1.5 million in assets. The Swiss National Bank also reported that Liberia had about $3.3 billion in assets in the country – about six times Liberia's Gross Domestic Product and around 40 times the impoverished country's national budget. The Swiss authorities said, however, that they had found no accounts specifically linked to the former Liberian leader. Kabbah said the Ghanaian government had failed to act on an arrest warrant to apprehend Taylor at the opening of peace talks in Accra because "it would have appeared as if President Kufuor purposely lured Taylor to be entrapped in Accra." This, he suggested, would have been damaging to the Ghanaian president's image.
15 August: The ship which began an emergency evacuation of Sierra Leonean refugees from Monrovia in July will return to the Liberian capital with enough food and medicine for 7,000 people, a spokesperson for the U.N. refugee agency said on Friday. In its first four voyages, the UNHCR-chartered vessel MV Overbeck transported 1,250 Sierra Leoneans to safety before being forced to suspend operations due to fighting which broke out around the city on July 18. Francesca Fontanini of the UNHCR said on its return voyage on Wednesday the Overbeck would carry 300 more refugees. Many of the 15,000 or so Sierra Leoneans were forced to flee after refugee camps were overtaken by the fighting, and many took refuge in the city centre where food and medicine has been in short supply. "Their health is still a crucial issue, but now we are sending medicines and food for some 7,000 people," Fontanini said. "So let's see if the situation is going to improve gradually."
14 August: The Sierra Stars came up just short of a win Thursday in their U-17 FIFA World Championship opening match against Spain, when the Spaniards scored an equalizer six minutes into an unusually long stoppage time. The heavily favoured Spanish side took a quick 2-0 lead early in the match on goals by David in the 8th minute and Sisi in the 15th. Spain was forced to play a man down, however, when Arzo of Villareal was shown a yellow card in the 28th minute, three minutes after he had a look at the yellow. Sierra Leone captain Samuel Barclay took advantage of his team's numerical superiority to record a rare hat trick: Barclay scored in the 34th and the 36th minutes, and then put the Sierra Stars ahead in the 73rd with a powerful shot through the legs of Spanish keeper Adan. Spain added punch to their offense with the substitution of two forwards, Xisco for David in the 66th minute and Cases for Jurado in the 76th, and Xisco put the ball into the net in the 96th minute to secure a 3-3 tie. Sierra Leone's lone substitution came in the 72nd minute, when forward Emerson Samba went in for Sheriff Suma. The Sierra Stars will take on the United States on Sunday. Starting for Sierra Leone were Patrick Bamtamoi in goal; Defenders Daniel Taylor, Umaru Bangura, Hassan Sesay, Mohamed Kamara, Mohamed Fornah; Midfielders Alimamy Sesay, Samuel Barclay, and Kalie Jalloh, and forwards Obi Metzger and Sheriff Suma. In reserve are Ibrahim Bangura, Unisa Bangura (goaltenders); Mohamed Koroma and Abu Bakarr Sankoh (defenders); Sampha Kamara and Lansana Bayoh (midfielders); and Emerson Samba, John Keister and Ibrahim Khalil Tahini (forwards). In Thursday's other Group D match, the United States defeated South Korea by a score of 6-1. In Group C, Portugal defeated Yemen 4-3 while Cameroon and Brazil played to a 1-1 draw.
Sierra Leone's military has announced plans to retire 1,000 soldiers who have reached the mandatory retirement age of 55 in order to make the army leaner and more efficient, the United Nations information service IRIN reported on Thursday. The downsizing is part of a three-year programme to restructure the army and to reduce its size from 13,800 troops to 10,500 by the end of January 2004. "We are targeting 1,000 soldiers each year for this and next year," said Brigadier Alfred Nelson-Williams, the Operations and Planning Officer of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF). He said those affected would be given one year's notice of their demobilisation. Those retired will be given a retirement bonus in addition to their pension. This will consist of the standard retirement gratuity, a year's salary and allowances, and a lump sum resettlement grant of $850. An army spokesman said the reduction should not affect the security forces' effectiveness. "After the war, we want a sizeable army which can be maintained financially and which will be well equipped," he said.
13 August: The Sierra Stars are set to take on Spain Thursday in the opening match of their FIFA Under-17 World Championship campaign. The Sierra Leonean footballers qualified for first world championship appearance last June, when they very nearly carried off the CAF U-17 championship cup in Swaziland. They were edged out in overtime when the Lion Cubs of Cameroon scored the match's lone goal. By reaching the finals, however, the Sierra Stars automatically qualified for this week's trip to Finland. Before they can look for a rematch with Cameroon, the Sierra Leoneans first have to contend with the United States, Spain and South Korea, their opponents in Group D. Two teams from each group advance to the semi-finals. On paper, the Spaniards are favoured for Thursday's match, and Coach Musa Kallon said his team is taking them seriously. "Spain are always a very tough opponent," he told FIFA.com. "But we will try to find the right strategies to deal with…and play our football." Spain's coach said his players were taking nothing for granted. "We know very little about Sierra Leone, but I am sure we can expect a very tough match – a physical match," he said. "Every match at the world championship is a difficult match…especially the first one and we will have to be ready." On the opening day of competition, hosts Finland defeated China 2-1 in Group A, while Mexico and Colombia could do no better than a 0-0 draw. In Group B, Nigeria and Costa Rica tied 1-1 and perennial powerhouse Argentina beat Australia 2-0. Groupings: Group A, at Helsinki: Finland, China, Mexico and Colombia. Group B, at Turku: Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica and Nigeria. Group C, at Tampere: Yemen, Portugal, Cameroon and Brazil. Group D in Lahti: Sierra Leone, United States, Spain and South Korea.
Sierra Leone's National Recovery Committee met Tuesday in the town of Moyamba to review recovery progress and challenges in Moyamba District, UNAMSIL said in a statement. The meeting, the eighth to be held at district level, was chaired by Vice President Solomon Berewa (pictured left), and was attended by representatives of the U.N. country team, UNAMSIL, the European Union, the World Bank, Britain's Department for International Development (DfID), local officials, and representatives of government ministries and parastatals. The chairman of Moyamba's District Recovery Committee, Daniel Kopoi, said the recovery process in Moyamba District was "generally advancing, but slowly" and recommended that the focus should be on agriculture sector development, rehabilitation of roads, power and water supply, communications, and the provision of shelter. Berewa responded that the government recognised the need for shelter throughout the country but that "it is impossible for the Government to satisfy all those needs." He encouraged people to "work hard in order to gain capacity to build houses." The U.N.'s Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Alan Doss (right), stressed the key role of agriculture and mineral resources to achieve economic growth in the district and to sustain the progress already made. Doss announced that the Magistrate Court building in Moyamba would be completed shortly, and that the UNDP had agreed to fund a residence for the resident magistrate, enabling Moyamba to have a sitting magistrate by the end of this year. Doss said that a radio communication set would soon be installed in the district, linking Moyamba to Freetown for the first time in many years.
Naturalised Sierra Leonean citizens should report with their naturalisation papers to the Immigration Department in Freetown or, if living abroad, to Sierra Leone's diplomatic mission in their country by August 16 or face the possibility of being left off a list of naturalised citizens, the Ministry of Internal Affairs said in a statement. The ministry said the Immigration Department was compiling a comprehensive list of naturalised citizens in line with its current restructuring programme. "This is to enable Government to maintain an accurate record of all naturalised citizens in the country," the statement said, adding: "The cooperation of all naturalised citizens is solicited in order to avoid the embarrassment that may ensue in the event of not being included in the official list of naturalised citizens in Sierra Leone." [Note: This affects only immigrants to Sierra Leone who acquired Sierra Leonean citizenship.]
11 August: President Charles Taylor of Liberia turned over the reins of government Monday to his vice president, Moses Blah, and left his country for exile in Nigeria. The former Liberian leader was accompanied to Roberts International Airport by several African presidents who were in Monrovia to witness the transfer of power. Taylor (pictured right) accepted an offer of asylum from Nigeria last month which in effect would shield him from war crimes charges by a U.N.-backed court in Sierra Leone, but he had remained vague on when he would actually leave Liberia. According to the Associated Press, some 300 Liberian and foreign dignitaries witnessed the handover ceremony in Monrovia, including the presidents of Ghana, South Africa, Mozambique and Togo, and Nigerian Foreign Minister Oluyemi Adeniji. Taylor had announced he would resign at exactly 11:59 a.m., but arrived for the ceremony hours late, reportedly delayed by the arrival of the foreign leaders. When he finally showed up, he was dressed in a white safari suit, and heavily guarded by Nigerian and South African peacekeeping troops. "Today's ceremony marks the end of an era in Liberia," said Ghanaian President John Kufuor, who is also the current chairman of ECOWAS. "It is our expectation that today the war in Liberia has ended." Kufuor added that Blah (left) would only remain in charge until October 2, when he would hand over to a transitional government. Within two hours of the handover, three American warships approached the Liberian coast. Under intense pressure to step down, Taylor left peacefully, but he did not leave quietly. In a farewell address to the nation on Sunday, he described himself as a "sacrificial lamb," and complained that he was being forced out by the United States. He accused the U.S. of backing Liberia's rebel forces in order to take over control of the country's mineral resources, and suggested that the U.S., in refusing to intervene until he left, "is using food and other things as a weapon against the Liberian people." "I am stepping down from this office on my own volition," Taylor said. "No one can take credit for asking me to step down. I did not want to leave this country. I can say I am being forced into exile by the world's superpower."
REACTION to the resignation of Liberian President Charles Taylor:
PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE, SPECIAL COURT FOR SIERRA LEONE: "The departure of Charles Taylor from power and from Liberia constitutes a significant but incomplete step forward for West Africa in establishing a just and stable peace. We call on the international community to ensure that Taylor stands before the Special Court for Sierra Leone to face the serious charges against him. There can be no true peace while he remains at large...Accountability addresses not just immediate threats to the peace but also the root causes of instability in the region, such as impunity for the most egregious violators of international criminal law. We call on the whole of the international community to take steps necessary to ensure that all those charged with violations of international humanitarian law are transferred into the custody of the Special Court, where they will be given the right to a presumption of innocence and a hearing before impartial international judges. Only then will the United Nations fulfill its promise that those most responsible for atrocities in Sierra Leone are tried. There can be no deals for indicted war criminals such as Charles Taylor. We hope that African leaders, particularly from Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa, will continue to show their leadership in ensuring that Mr. Taylor faces justice.
10 August: Detainees of Sierra Leone's Special Court have been moved from a temporary lockup on Bonthe Island to the court's new high-security detention facility in Freetown, the court's spokesman confirmed on Sunday. David Hecht told the Sierra Leone Web that the move would bring the prisoners closer to their lawyers, give them access to their friends and families, and provide them with better health and recreational facilities. "The main thing is that they'll be able to work on building a defence to the charges by the prosecutor," he added. The eight prisoners were transferred at around midday Sunday. Twelve persons have so far been indicted by the court for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. Three are known dead or may have died since the indictments were handed down. A fourth, President Charles Taylor of Liberia, has challenged the court's jurisdiction to prosecute him.
8 August: Nigerian peacekeepers in Liberia intercepted a plane early Thursday carrying ten tons of ammunition destined for forces loyal to Liberian President Charles Taylor, according to IRIN, a United Nations information service. The plane arrived before dawn at Roberts International Airport outside of Monrovia. Taylor and his Military Chief of Staff, General Benjamin Yeaten, went to the airport personally to try and secure the release of the cargo, which consisted of ammunition for AK-47 rifles and rocket propelled grenades, but the Nigerians refused to hand it over. IRIN quoted a military source as saying the ammunition had been purchased abroad by Taylor's son Chucky, in contravention of a U.N. arms embargo. It was originally to have been delivered by ship to the port of Buchanan, but due to the capture of Buchanan last week by MODEL rebels, the ammunition was offloaded at an undisclosed foreign port and flown to Liberia instead. Also Thursday, Taylor told the television news service CNN that he planned to go into exile in Nigeria, but that he would continue to fight war crimes charges lodged against him by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. "President Obasanjo and other African leaders of the African Union and ECOWAS have all seen the political nature of this case," Taylor said. "They’ve looked at it and have seen that as African brothers they ought to help the situation in Liberia where I have volunteered to step down. They can see no reason why I should be harassed, and have gone ahead to ask me to come to Nigeria. I will go to Nigeria, God willing, but while I’m there I expect that this issue will be dealt with. However, I have not waited for that. I’ve just said that we’ve filed papers, both in the court in Sierra Leone and in the International Court of Justice challenging the jurisdiction and legitimacy of this court." Meanwhile LURD rebels besieging the capital have added new conditions for opening Monrovia's port to aid agencies which are seeking to bring desperately needed food and humanitarian supplies into the capital. Sekou Fofana, a LURD representative in Monrovia, told Reuters that Taylor's forces would have to withdraw from the rest of the city. Fofana also threatened that LURD would resume fighting if Taylor hands power over to Vice President Moses Blah as planned, and if the Liberian leader did not depart the country immediately after stepping down. "If Moses Blah takes over, we will fight back. We will definitely fight Moses Blah," he said, adding that if Taylor did not leave on Monday, "things will be tough again" for the Liberian people.
7 August: President Kabbah met with his cabinet in Bo Thursday, as part of an effort to bring government closer to the people. Previous cabinet sessions were held in Kenema in May and in Makeni in June. The BBC correspondent in Bo, Richard Margao, said planned disruptions were avoided when the president met Wednesday evening with teachers upset over non-payment of their salaries and with Kamajor officials demanding the unconditional release of their leader, former Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman, who has been indicted for war crimes. The Kamajors, Margao said, also complained they had not received medals for service they say they were promised by the government. Some of the teachers, particularly the new teachers, complained they had not been paid for the past eleven months. "In the case of the teachers, (Kabbah) said that he understands that the blame squarely lies with the owners of primary and secondary schools," Margao said. "He said there was no liaison between them and the Ministry of Education. He told them that when he goes back to Freetown he will have to normalize for sure that their salary will be paid, now that he has identified the problem and where the problem lies." In the case of the ex-Kamajor militiamen, "He said government had spent three billion leones on the Kamajor movement in this country. But [that did not mean] that the government backed Kamajors for whatever atrocities they could have committed in this country." The president also heard complaints over the high price of rice, the country's staple food. "The president said he had spoken to the Lebanese community in this country, and the Lebanese are saying that this country and the Lebanese are saying since this country created liberalisation they go according to the price of the dollar," Margao said. "When the dollar comes down then definitely the price of rice will come down. When it goes up, then the price of rice will go up."
Liberian President Charles Taylor notified Congress Thursday that he will step down on Monday and hand over power to his vice president, Moses Blah. In a letter to Congress, Taylor said his government had been the victim of an "international conspiracy" which included support by neighbouring countries for rebel factions and U.N.-imposed sanctions. "This orchestration has prevented me from carrying out my constitutional responsibilities of defending the country and providing essential social services for the people,'' he said. "Therefore I as president of this noble republic can no longer preside over the suffering and humiliation of the Liberian public." Members of the House and the Senate, meeting behind closed doors, endorsed Taylor's decision as is required by Liberia's constitution, the Associated Press reported. Meanwhile, Nigerian soldiers from the new West African peacekeeping force for Liberia, ECOMIL patrolled for the first time through central Monrovia Thursday, where they were greeted by tens of thousands of cheering residents.
6 August: Liberian President Charles Taylor is expected to announce his intention to resign Thursday, and is expected to take asylum in Nigeria, ECOWAS Executive-Secretary Mohamed Ibn Chambas told reporters on Wednesday. "There will be a joint session of the (Liberian) Senate and the House of Representatives tomorrow," Chambas said. The ceremony is for Mr. Taylor to inform them of his intention to resign. Then, on Monday the handing over proper will happen and this will be administered by the Chief Justice of Liberia. I will expect Mr. Taylor to take the offer to come to Nigeria." The Reuters news agency reported that President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa would be on hand Monday to witness the handover of power to Vice President Moses Blah. Earlier Wednesday, Nigerian Foreign Minister Oluyemi Adeniji denied that Taylor had rejected an offer of asylum in Nigeria. Adeniji met with the Liberian leader on Monday. According to AFP, the French news agency, Adeniji insisted that the Nigerian government would not negotiate with Taylor over his demand for the lifting of a war crimes indictment he faces in Sierra Leone. "No, no, no, that is not for us," he was quoted as saying. In Washington, a presidential spokesman reiterated President George W. Bush's demand that Taylor step down. "Our position is, first things first, he needs to leave the country. That's what our focus is," Scott McClellan told journalists. "He needs to leave the country, and then those issues (the war crimes charges) can be addressed." The indictment against Taylor has been challenged by lawyers for the Liberian government both at the Special Court in Freetown and at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague. "Liberia contends that the arrest warrant of Charles Taylor violates customary international law and impugns the honour and reputation of the presidency and its sovereignty," the ICJ said in a statement on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the U.S. said Tuesday it would send a "liaison element" of between six and ten Marines from two American warships to provide logistical assistance to ECOMIL, the West African peacekeeping force which is set to deploy in Monrovia. The Liberian capital was reported to be relatively quiet Tuesday and Wednesday, but fighting between government forces and MODEL rebels was said to be continuing in the port city of Buchanan.
5 August: President Kabbah appeared before his country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on Tuesday, and during his two hours and twenty minutes of testimony related his experience as national leader during the country's civil war, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported. Kabbah described the security problems he inherited from NPRC military regime from his election as president in 1996 until he was overthrown by the AFRC junta just over a year later. “The army had been politicised,” Kabbah said, adding that the military's loyalty was not to the civilian government but to shady political interests. Kabbah expressed frustration with the collusion between the army and its erstwhile adversary, the RUF. This alliance, he said, led to the January 1999 invasion of Freetown in which thousands of civilians were killed and large parts of the city destroyed. The president acknowledged calling for the setting up of Sierra Leone's U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal, but avoided commenting on cases currently before the court. "Also interesting was President Kabbah’s call for the criminalisation of any attempt by a sitting president to extend his stay in office, thus ending speculation by his detractors that he may want to file for office after his term expires in 2007," Fofana said.
Liberia has filed a complaint against Sierra Leone before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), challenging the jurisdiction of the U.N.-backed Special Court in Freetown to prosecute Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes, an ICJ spokesman said on Tuesday. "The complaint is against the Republic of Sierra Leone, and it concerns a dispute concerning the indictment and international arrest warrant of 7 March 2003 which issued against Charles Taylor by the Special Court for Sierra Leone at Freetown," the spokesman said. "In the document by which Liberia tries to bring this case, Liberia says the international arrest warrant against President Taylor violates a fundamental principle of international law providing for immunity from criminal proceedings of an incumbent head of state." A similar motion was filed last month with the Special Court itself. In a BBC interview Tuesday, Liberian presidential press secretary Vaani Passawe explained the basis for the challenge. "We want the court to squash (sic.) the indictment on grounds that the Freetown court is this Sierra Leonean court and it has no jurisdiction over Liberia or a Liberian subject," he said, adding: "Whenever we have international court such as in Sierra Leone, individual member states must sign on to it – a treaty setting it up so that its jurisdiction will be effective in their own countries." Passawe disputed a suggestion that Liberia was isolated in its opposition to the indictment against Taylor. "I’m not sure everybody sides with (the court)," he said. "We have heard comments from international jurists. We’ve had Africa, West Africa particularly, voting on that matter on June 4th when the indictment was unsealed. If West Africa had been in agreement with the court, naturally it would have been effected in Accra against President Taylor. That West Africa turned down enforcement suggests that they are not in agreement. We also have the written commitment from the AU that they are not along with the indictment."
Liberian President Charles Taylor has pledged to step down on Monday, but apparently is not prepared to leave Liberia, a spokesman for Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said on Tuesday. Earlier, South African President Thabo Mbeki (pictured left) said Taylor had assured him he would hand over power on Monday and leave for exile in Nigeria almost immediately. "President Charles Taylor of Liberia called and said he’s handing over government to the vice president on Monday next week, and Vice President Blah will then be president. He will of course form a government of national unity," Mbeki told reporters. "President Taylor will leave Liberia after the installation of that vice president as president on Monday, and will leave as soon as possible after that, either the same day or the day after, to go to Nigeria." Last month, Taylor accepted an offer of asylum from Obasanjo, but has been vague about when he might take it up. Publicly, the Liberian leader says he wants to remain in Monrovia until a substantial peacekeeping force is on the ground. He has also demanded that war crimes charges against him in Sierra Leone be dropped as the price for his leaving. "The latest information we have is that Mr. Taylor appears at the present time unwilling to take up our offer of asylum," Nigerian presidential spokesman Felix Stanley Macebuh said. "As a matter of fact, the problem is that Mr. Taylor is simply saying that he will be willing only to leave Liberia if the international court drops the war crimes charges against him." In a BBC interview on Tuesday, Taylor's press secretary, Vanni Passawe, said Taylor's departure was no longer a matter of doubt. "The president is very clear about it that he is leaving Liberia," he said. For a matter of security reasons we are holding that to our chests, but I want to assure you that President Taylor will be leaving Liberia very, very soon." In New York, the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative to Liberia delivered his most direct warning yet that time was running out for the Liberian leader. "I would say to him very bluntly, take the Nigerian offer while it’s still on the table, because that offer will not stay on the table that long," Jacques Klein (right) told National Public Radio. "Ultimately, I will have a mandate, the same mandate I had in Eastern Slavonia. In Eastern Slavonia we brought in the first indicted war criminal – that is the United Nations. There’s no reason why we can’t do that in Liberia." Meanwhile, 70 more Nigerian troops arrived from Sierra Leone Tuesday to join the new West African peacekeeping force for Sierra Leone.
4 August: A first group of 192 Nigerian peacekeepers and 33,000 pounds of equipment were airlifted from Freetown Monday to the war-torn Liberian capital Monrovia, news services reported. The troops are from UNAMSIL's 15th Nigerian Battalion, now renamed NIBATT 1, and were ending a year-long tour of duty with the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone. The first batch of 40 troops left Hastings Airfield abroad two U.N. MI-8 helicopters. About 300 more soldiers from the 734-strong battalion are expected to arrive on Wednesday. A second Nigerian battalion is due to arrive from Lagos by the end of next week. The two battalions will make up a 1,500 member vanguard of what is expected to be 3,250-strong ECOWAS peacekeeping force. The Nigerians are expected to camp at Roberts International Airport for a few days before moving to central Monrovia, about 30 miles away. Meanwhile, two American warships have reached Liberian waters to back up the West African Peacekeepers, the Reuters news agency reported. According to a senior U.S. defence official, the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima and the support ship USS Carter Hall are near the Liberian coast, and the USS Nashville is expected within days. In New York, diplomats are working out a mandate for a United Nations force which is expected to replace the ECOWAS peacekeepers in October. Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Hedi Annabi told reporters that the United Nations plans to send "a fairly sizeable force" which would likely be modeled on the U.N. peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone. "We are working on a fairly sizable operation that will be designed taking into account our experience in Sierra Leone where...things have worked quite well," he said. "In some ways the problems we will be facing in Liberia are not terribly different and we will probably take the same approach in designing the structure and the size of the force. So we're talking in terms of a fairly sizable force." The Associated Press quoted U.N. officials as saying the Liberian force would probably not be as large as the force in Sierra Leone. Annabi called October 1 "a date that might stick under an ideal scenario," but stressed that nobody knows what conditions on the ground will be by then. "We need time to prepare troops and train them to do their tasks, and we should not be rushed unduly into deploying forces that are not ready because it will come back to haunt us, as it did in Sierra Leone in May 2000," he said.
Former President Joseph Saidu Momoh will receive a state funeral in Sierra Leone if his family wishes, the president's office said in a statement Monday. "If the decision of the family is to have the remains of ex-President Joseph Saidu Momoh brought to Sierra Leone for burial, Government is prepared to honour him with a state funeral," the statement said. Momoh died early Sunday at a private clinic in the Guinean capital Conakry, where he lived in exile. He had been in ill health, and was hospitalised for the past two weeks for what family members said was a range of complications from depression and hypertension. The BBC, quoting the Sierra Leone Embassy in Conakry, said the Guinean government had pledged to bear the cost of sending the late president's body back to Sierra Leone for burial. Radio France International quoted officials of his APC party as saying they were making arrangements to bring his body to Sierra Leone.
The speed with which the Special Court for Sierra Leone has moved suggests it may complete its work within its three year mandate, but a number of concerns have arisen and the main challenge of running fair and expeditious trials still lies ahead, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a status report issued on Monday. In particular, the group pointed to concerns by some in Sierra Leone about the suggestion of outside influence on the court, and "substantial security concerns" over the indictment and arrest of former CDF commanders and former Internal Affairs Minister Sam Hinga Norman. "Another important question is whether the U.N. Security Council will enhance the Court’s power and prestige by giving it a mandate under Chapter VII of the charter, which would require all member states of the world organisation to comply with its orders," the report said. The ICG noted that the question of granting the Court Chapter VII authority had been complicated by the effort to remove Liberian President Charles Taylor from power and to end the conflict in that country, but said a decision on the issue was needed. "A Chapter VII mandate would not guarantee state compliance, but without it, the Special Court will continue to face unnecessary obstacles," the group said.
Nigerian Foreign Minister Oluyemi Adeniji flew to Monrovia Monday, reportedly bearing a message for Liberian President Charles Taylor. The contents were not disclosed. Taylor has accepted an offer of asylum in Nigeria which would shield him from war crimes charges in Sierra Leone, but he has not said when he will take it up. Under pressure from ECOWAS to step down as president and leave the country within three days of the deployment of the first contingent of West African peacekeepers, Taylor promised last week that would resign on August 11. He refused to say, however, when he would leave Liberia. His aides have said Taylor will not leave Liberia unless the Special Court for Sierra Leone drops war crimes charges against him, and until there is a substantial peacekeeping force on the ground. But time may be running out for the Liberian leader. On Sunday, U.N. Special Representative to Liberia Jacques Kline told the BBC that Taylor was a "psychopathic killer" who risked forfeiting the Nigerian asylum offer if he stalled for too long. Adeniji, talking to reporters in Freetown on Friday, noted that his country had a "specific and personal grudge" against Taylor, who is blamed for attacking and killing Nigerian peacekeepers during the first round of Liberia's civil war, but that Nigeria had made a political decision to remove Taylor from the scene immediately in order to promote a settlement of the Liberian crisis. "You cannot, because of one person, sacrifice the interest of the entire populace of the sub-region, not just of Liberia," he said. "If you don’t start resolving the Liberian crisis, you’re not sure of what would happen in this place (and) you can’t be sure of what will happen in Guinea or Côte d'Ivoire." Adeniji was also critical of the Special Court, which announced its indictment of Taylor on June 4 while the Liberian president was attending a peace conference in Accra, and demanded that he be turned over the the court. "To think that the Ghanaian government, which was playing host and whose president happens to be the president of ECOWAS, would hand him over on that occasion – That was asking for too much," Adeniji said. "The African presidents thought that was a slight, apart from the complication which it would introduce to any attempt to resolve the conflict."
3 August: Joseph Saidu Momoh, Sierra Leone's president from 1985 to 1992, died early Sunday in Conakry. The cause of his death was not immediately known, but APC party leader Ernest Bai Koroma told the Sierra Leone Web that the former president had been ill for some time, suffering from both hypertension and diabetes. Momoh, who headed the Sierra Leone Army from 1971 to 1985 under President Siaka Stevens, was a career soldier who ultimately rose to the rank of major-general. He resigned his commission in 1985, however, when Stevens designated him as his successor. Momoh's tenure in office, a continuation of Stevens' one-party rule, was plagued by government mismanagement and corruption. As his APC party found itself more and more isolated around its northern base, Momoh's government found itself unable to deal effectively with the challenge of Foday Sankoh's rebellion in the east. He instituted a new constitution in 1991 to pave the way for multi-party democracy, but the reforms came too late. In April 1992, he was overthrown by a group of mid-ranking military officers who complained of a lack of support on the battlefield. Momoh later acknowledged that he had failed the nation, but in a 2001 interview with the website Sierra Leone Live, Momoh argued that the coup against him was unjustified. "My own argument was that it does not matter how unpopular, inefficient, corrupt and inept a government becomes, nobody has the right to remove that government from power by any means other than constitutional means," he said. In 1997, Momoh tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a political settlement between the AFRC/RUF junta and President Kabbah's government-in-exile. Upon the restoration of Kabbah's civilian government the following year, Momoh was accused of collaborating with the junta, a charge which he denied. In November 1998, Momoh was cleared of treason charges but convicted on two lesser charges of conspiracy. He was sentenced to two concurrent five year prison terms, but was broken out of jail two months later by rebel forces who overran the capital. Momoh was later pardoned in the general amnesty which followed the Lomé Peace Accord. On Sunday, Ernest Bai Koroma remembered the former president's accomplishments. "Momoh contributed immensely towards unifying the country, and he will be remembered as the man who without any pressure ushered in a multi-party democracy in this country," he said. "Of course his critics will consider him a weak man, but he was a man who allowed the multi-party democracy to come back, and he allowed people from the south and east to participate in a position of prominence in his government. I think that he could be credited for that."
Family members of the late rebel leader Foday Sankoh took his body to his home town of Magburaka for burial Sunday, the Reuters news agency reported. His wife Fatou and other family members took his body from the funeral home after saying a short Muslim prayer. Sankoh's body, dressed in a white gown and wine-coloured cap, was carried out in a wooden coffin.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has begun an emergency airlift of food from Freetown to Monrovia, where hundreds of thousands of people are in desperate need of assistance following two weeks of fighting. Gregory Blamo, who heads the WFP in Monrovia, told the BBC on Sunday that half a ton of high-energy biscuits arrived on Saturday. "This first consignment was delivered to MSF-France," he said. "They run a supplementary feeding programme at a camp in Salala where we have about 23,000 internally displaced persons. This half a ton consignment is sufficient for 4,000, and they are going specifically to children, especially those under five." Blamo said a total of 12 metric tons of food commodities was due to be flown in to Liberia over the next few days, and that the airlift would continue until the WFP could gain access to its warehouses in Monrovia's port. That area is currently controlled by LURD rebels. "I heard that the stores were broken into and so I want to believe that some of the food commodities may have been looted," Blamo said. "But I cannot say exactly how much unless again unless we have access to check."
2 August: Sierra Leonean forensic pathologist who examined the body of Foday Sankoh Saturday concluded the former rebel leader died from pneumonia and other causes. According to a statement by Sierra Leone's Special Court, Dr. Joseph Kamara issued a death certificate saying the death was due to “respiratory failure due to massive pulmonary embolism.” Sankoh died earlier this week in court custody, where he was awaiting trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Sierra Leone's civil war, which he launched from Liberia in March 1991. According to the Reuters news agency, hundreds of Freetown residents watched and jeered as Sankoh's body, wrapped in a white sheet and surrounded by heavily-armed paramilitary police, was carried into Connaught Hospital for the post mortem. Afterwards, according to an Associated Press account, court authorities turned the body over to his family in a varnished wood coffin. "I have lost a great man who cares for his people and country," said his Senegalese-born widow, Fatou Mbaye Sankoh. "I will miss him forever." Sankoh is expected to be buried on Sunday.
Two British judges and an investigator are due to arrive in Freetown shortly to assist Sierra Leone's Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the president's office said on Friday. The announcement came following a meeting between President Kabbah, Anti-Corruption Commissioner Val Collier, and British officials. Kabbah was quoted as saying he hoped the arrival of the three-member team would help the country's judiciary to clear up the huge backlog of cases awaiting investigation or trial.
Liberian President Charles Taylor has agreed to step down and hand over power to a successor on August 11, one week after the arrival of the first contingent of peacekeepers from a West African force. The announcement followed a meeting between Taylor and a delegation of senior West African officials who told Taylor they wanted him to depart for exile in Nigeria three days after the first of the peacekeepers arrived. "We have to convene an emergency session of the joint legislature. That should happen on Thursday," Taylor told reporters following the meeting. "At, oh, 11:59 a.m. Monday I’ll step down and the new guy might be sworn in by midday on that Monday," he added. Taylor refused to say when he would leave Nigeria, however, and his presumed successor, Vice President Moses Blah, insisted there were conditions. "The president has said very clearly that if he is going to leave there must be sufficient forces on the ground (and) he wants the indictment to be lifted off his head," Blah said. Taylor was indicted last March for war crimes and crimes against humanity involving his alleged backing of Sierra Leone's brutal RUF rebel group during that country's civil war. Presidential press secretary Vaani Passawe spoke to reporters later in the day and said that while while Taylor would step down on the 11th, he would only leave the country after three months, Radio France International reported. BBC Monrovia correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh said the war crimes indictment now seemed to be the main sticking point. "(Passawe) is telling journalists this afternoon that President Taylor wants to leave Liberia as a free man and that the issue of indictment has to be addressed," Paye-Layleh said. "He said the president’s personal safety and dignity is at stake once the indictment is not resolved. So this means to me that President Taylor’s leaving this country now is again conditional." Taylor's forces launched an attack on LURD rebels in Monrovia Saturday, with military sources saying they had pushed the rebels back retaken three key bridges, the Reuters news agency reported. Fighting was said to be going on as well in the port city of Buchanan, which was captured by the MODEL rebel group earlier this week. Meanwhile, the first 300 troops from UNAMSIL's 734-strong 15th Nigerian Battalion in Sierra Leone are on standby to be airlifted into Monrovia on Monday. In Freetown, UNAMSIL spokesman Patrick Coker told the Sierra Leone Web that the Nigerian peacekeepers were ready to go. "NIBATT 15 is currently assembled at Hastings for its pre-deployment training and preparations to deploy into Monrovia on Monday, 4 August 2003," he said. "UNAMSIL has been authorized to facilitate the deployment with own air assets – MI-8 and MI-26 (helicopters) and other logistic supports, and this will be for the first 30 days of their operations in Liberia." There was no immediate information on how much money would be diverted from UNAMSIL to underwrite the cost of peacekeeping efforts in Liberia.
A battalion of Nigerian peacekeepers for the ECOWAS peacekeeping force in Liberia, ECOMIL, should arrive from Sierra Leone by August 4, the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative for Liberia said on Saturday. "The United Nations will move it with U.N. assets – that is, U.N. airplanes and helicopters – to Monrovia," Jacques Klein told the BBC. "That will be followed by a second Nigerian battalion, we’re hoping around the 14th of August. That will also be moved by United Nations assets. Then following that, we should have a third smaller unit from Mali, Ghana and Senegal later in the month." Klein said that as soon as the situation was stable he would send in a United Nations assessment team to prepare the groundwork for a U.N. force to replace the regional peacekeeping effort. "There is 30 or 40 percent of Liberia nobody’s been into for three or four years, so we have to look at the humanitarian side, bridges, roads, infrastructure – all those things," he said. "That assessment team will take two weeks. They will come back (and) I will then brief the Security Council. Then the Security Council will hopefully come up with a solid mandate for a United Nations peacekeeping mission on or about 1 November." Klein, a senior American diplomat who most recently served as the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative to to Bosnia and Herzegovina, said he hoped the deployment of a substantial ECOWAS force would engender President Taylor's departure from the scene and "trigger the American response" for U.S. participation in the United Nations force. "President Bush at his news conference the other day did say a limited number of troops for a limited period of time, which was very obviously reassuring to everyone," he said. "I think many of the countries involved in this scenario are looking to the U.S. for that kind of leadership in a sense, and engagement which would I think would also then motivate others to help and assist."
Only 40 countries have met a July 31 deadline for legislation to curb the trade in illegal diamonds, and risk of being excluded from the global diamond trade if they fail to comply with tough new industry regulations by the end of the month. Under the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme which was endorsed last November by more than 50 diamond producing and importing countries (the 15-member European Union counts as one country), all rough diamonds must be exported in tamper-proof parcels accompanied by forge-proof Certificates of Origin verifying that they come from legitimate sources. The Kimberley Process was launched three years ago in the South African mining town of Kimberley to seek ways to curb the trade in "conflict diamonds," blamed for fueling wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. One country which got in just under the wire was the United States, the world's largest diamond importer. President George W. Bush signed an executive order bringing the U.S. into compliance just one day before the deadline. Among the nearly 20 countries which failed to make the cut were Brazil, a major diamond producer, and the Czech Republic, a cutting and polishing country. A global coalition of non-governmental organisations welcomed publication of the list of countries in compliance, but warned that without effective and independent monitoring, there was no way of telling whether illicit gems were still entering the system. "Passing new regulations is not enough," said Ian Smillie (pictured left) of Partnership Africa Canada. "We already have laws against theft and human rights abuse. These have not stopped conflict diamonds in the past. The laws must have teeth." There is now a one-month grace period while countries update their legislation to include the names of countries eligible for diamond trading, Smillie told the Sierra Leone Web on Saturday. He added that goods already in the pipeline would not be refused until August 31.
Leaders of the former pro-government Kamajor militia are threatening to disrupt next week's cabinet meeting in Bo to register their grievances over what they say is the government's failure to deliver on promises made to them, BBC Bo correspondent Richard Margao reported. The Kamajors say that prior to the disarmament process President Kabbah had "The Kamajors also expressed dissatisfaction over the manner in which their former leader, Minister of Internal Affairs Chief Sam Hinga Norman, was arrested by the police," Margao said. "They called for his unconditional release and his indictment to be dropped by the international court." President Kabbah has said on several occasions, most recently in a meeting with U.K.-based SLPP party supporters in London, that the government has no jurisdiction over the Special Court. Margao quoted sources close to the provincial secretary's office as saying that the former Kamajor commanders had been asked to nominate three of their number to take part in discussion with government authorities in Freetown.
1 August: The United Nations Security Council voted Friday to authorise an emergency West African peacekeeping force for war-torn Liberia. Under the U.S.-sponsored resolution, the ECOWAS-sponsored force, ECOMIL, would remain in Liberia for two months and then hand over to a multinational United Nations force in October. The first West African troops, a Nigerian battalion based in Sierra Leone, is expected to arrive in Liberia on Monday. The resolution authorises the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone to provide logistical support to ECOMIL for the first 30 days. In approving the resolution, the Council said it had determined that "the situation in Liberia constitutes a threat to international peace and security, to stability in the West Africa sub-region, and to the peace process for Liberia." The U.N. peacekeepers be asked to "secure the environment" so that humanitarian aid can be delivered to the desperate population, and to pave the way for the initial stages of disarming and demobilising combatants. The resolution gives U.N. peacekeepers Chapter VII authority under the U.N. charter, meaning the force will be authorised to use military force to carry out its mandate. The Council called on U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to submit recommendations on U.N. force's size, structure and mandate, preferably by August 15.
Liberian President Charles Taylor has skipped a meeting with a group of high-ranking West African officials who arrived in Monrovia Friday. The team, which included ECOWAS Executive-Secretary Mohamed Ibn Chambas and senior ministers from Nigeria, Ghana and Togo, were in the Liberian capital to finalise arrangements for Taylor to hand over power and leave for exile in Nigeria by next Thursday – three days after the planned arrival of a vanguard force of regional peacekeepers. Instead, according to the BBC, the officials were told that Taylor had left for the port of Buchanan, where loyalist forces are fighting to recapture the city from MODEL rebels. The diplomats insisted, however, that they would speak to Taylor notwithstanding. "We're going to wait until we can sit down and talk to him," said Ghanaian Foreign Minister Nana Akufo-Addo. Liberian officials were quoted as saying the meeting has been rescheduled for Saturday morning. In an interview with the BBC's Network Africa programme, ECOWAS Executive-Secretary Mohamed Ibn Chambas said the first force on the ground would be UNAMSIL's 15th Nigerian Battalion, which ended its tour of duty in Sierra Leone this week. The logistics, he added, would be provided by UNAMSIL. "The second battalion will join from Nigeria within the week also, and we actually expect that within three weeks of the deployment of this first battalion the entire West African contingent of 3,250 will be deployed in Liberia," Chambas said.