The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

August 1999
 

31 August: Two RUF commanders, Brigadier Dennis "Superman" Mingo and Brigadier Mike Lamin, were reportedly abducted by AFRC rebel soldiers late Monday or early Tuesday while travelling between Freetown and Makeni. The kidnapping took place in the area near Okra Hill, some 45 miles east of Freetown, where rebel soldiers earlier this month kidnapped nearly 40 U.N. military observers, aid workers, ECOMOG soldiers and journalists. The rebel commanders were part of an RUF advance team which has been holding talks with government officials in Freetown on ways to implement the peace accord signed in Lomé, Togo last month. The reason for Tuesday's abductions was not immediately clear.

The first contingent of 2,000 Nigerian ECOMOG troops was set to leave Sierra Leone on Tuesday. The Nigerian government announced earlier in August that it planned to withdraw 2,000 soldiers each month, eventually leaving only 1,000 troops to help with the disarmament and demobilisation of combatants.

Two Malian ECOMOG soldiers who were captured by the RUF on May 7 during a rebel attack on Port Loko returned to Bamako on Monday, according to Malian state radio. The two, who were reported to be in good health, were released August 29 following lengthy negotiations by Sierra Leone and Mali within the framework of ECOWAS, the radio said.

30 August: RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh said Monday he was preparing to depart Togo for Freetown. "I will be leaving here within the next few days or even Foday Sankohhours. I met President Eyadema today to say goodbye," he said. Sankoh has cited security concerns and problems with accommodations and transportation to explain his delay in returning to Sierra Leone, where the RUF will participate in a power-sharing arrangement with the Sierra Leone government. "Where war has reigned for nine years you can't just walk in like that without proper preparation and security guarantees from the government itself and other agencies," he said. "They (the RUF advance delegation in Freetown) have to give me the green light before I go in."

The United Nations is in the process of adding military observers up to the newly-authorised level of 210, which the U.N. expects to reach by mid-October, the Deputy Spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, said on Monday. He told reporters that within the first ten days of September the U.N. should have 100 military observers already in place.

Thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees have fled northern Liberia to escape fighting between government troops and Liberian rebels, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Monday. About 5,000 of the refugees left Kolahun in northern Lofa County for the town of Targbe, about 30 miles to the south, worried that relief assistance would not reach them in Kolahun after aid workers were evacuated from the border area. The UNHCR has recommended the transfer of the refugees registered at Targbe for security reasons. "We are very concerned by the well-being of the refugees as well as the safety of our colleagues," UNHCR Regional Director for West and Central Africa Abou Moussa was quoted as saying. "With regard to the refugees, we have proposed to the government to transfer them further inland pending their voluntary return to Sierra Leone when the conditions are fully met." Alexander Kulue, the Executive Director of the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) said plans were being made to transfer the Sierra Leoneans from Lower Lofa to Camp Sinje in Cape Mount County, where there are already 8,000 refugees. "It is a question of accessibility," Kulue said. "It is far easier to assist the refugees in Sinje than in Lower Lofa." About 35,000 Sierra Leoneans are said to live in camps in Lofa County, including 10,000 who have remained in Kolahun despite the fighting. A one-day inter-agency security assessment of conditions in Kolahun on Sunday determined that conditions were satisfactory for a needs assessment mission. "We are planning to send a humanitarian mission to Kolahun on Wednesday to see how we can best help the remaining Sierra Leonean refugees stranded there," Kulue said.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the RUF Monday to honour its commitments to release abducted children and prisoners-of-war. In a press release timed to coincide with the visit to Freetown by the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, HRW pointed out that the RUF had agreed to release all non-combatants in the May 18 cease-fire agreement and again in the July 7 Lomé Peace Accord. "However, only 345 children have officially been released to date, out of thousands who are believed to have been abducted during eight years of civil war. The children are often used as combatants, laborers, and sex slaves," HRW said. The human rights group also noted that the RUF had promised to release immediately all prisoners of war. While the RUF is thought to hold some 100 ECOMOG soldiers, only 18 have been freed so far, HRW noted. HRW expressed the hope that Otunnu would pressure the rebel group to honour its commitments. In a letter to RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, HRW said that of the 345 children who had been officially released and the 650 who had been unofficially released or managed to escape, all came from the western and northern rebel-controlled areas. "The letter questions why there have been no releases from the eastern rebel strongholds of Kono, Magburaka, and Kailahun," the HRW press released said. "Those released represent only a fraction of the many thousands of children abducted by the rebel group during the country's eight year civil war. More than 3,000 children were reported missing during a January 1999 offensive on Freetown."

The foreign ministers of the five Scandinavian countries called Sunday for a worldwide ban on the recruitment of soldiers under age 18. In a joint statement issued in Egilsstadir, Iceland, the foreign ministers of Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland called for international efforts to ban the recruitment and use of child soldiers. The statement said the five countries fully backed United Nations efforts to protect children in areas of conflict throughout the world. Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh noted that some 300,000 children were currently involved in armed conflicts worldwide, and pointed to Ethiopia, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and the Republic of Congo as countries where child soldiers are most commonly used.

29 August: The United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, is due to arrive in Sierra Leone on Monday for a three-day visit. According to a U.N. press release, Otunnu will meet with President Kabbah and Foreign Minister Dr. Sama Banya on Monday, and will also visit U.N. aid workers and security officials in the capital, to stress that children's rights and welfare are "the most important issues facing Sierra Leone as it emerges from a brutal eight-year-long civil war." Otunnu was scheduled to meet RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh on Tuesday, but since Sankoh has not yet returned to Sierra Leone from Lomé, Togo, alternative arrangements were being made for the two to converse by telephone.

28 August: The first humanitarian convoy, consisting of eleven vehicles, has reached the city of Makeni, the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA) reported on Saturday. Accompanying the convoy were United Nations military observers, aid officials, and officials of the Catholic Diocese of Makeni. "Upon their arrival they met with personnel of RUF and requested a guarantee of security for the humanitarian operation," MISNA said. According to Makeni Bishop George Biguzzi, their response was, "We have immediate need of food and medicine. The people are in a state of total poverty; if there is no intervention with food and medicine very soon, the consequences will be still more tragic." The humanitarian mission was made possible by the removal of two key obstacles: the repair of the Mamusa Bridge on the highway between Freetown and Makeni, and the personal insecurity of aid workers, caused by recent kidnappings, robberies and aggression. 

RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh has disputed allegations made Wednesday by the Committee to Protect Journalists, and a day earlier by Reporters sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders), of an August 20 assault on For di People editor Paul Kamara by RUF commanders at the newspaper's offices in Freetown. According to the two journalists' organisations, the RUF officials were upset by a For di People article implying that the RUF commanders were living in luxury in the capital while their followers were suffering in the bush. "I have spoken to President Kabbah, to the police, to members of the National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights as well as to ECOMOG commanding officers on the report. From what I have been informed by all these respectable personalities, I am now in a position to categorically and clearly refute the report from the International Committee to Protect Journalists," Kabbah said in a letter to the Sierra Leone Web and other media. Sankoh said the three rebel commanders, Brigadier Mike Lamin, Brigadier Dennis Mingo and Colonel Kanu, went to the newspaper's offices unarmed and accompanied by a single ECOMOG officer. "This visit was made necessary because of the several slanted reports that the paper had been issuing to the public," Sankoh said. "These reports threatened to jeopardise the peace process." While not denying the alleged assault on the For di People editor, Sankoh noted that "Brigadier Mike Lamin...is a slightly built man and I understand that Paul Kamara is heftier than Brigadier Mike." He added that the two other RUF commanders had not touched any staff member of the paper, and dismissed reports that the office had been ransacked as "a complete lie." Sankoh said he had "instructed our solicitors to take up the matter and ensure that For di People Newspaper refrain from publishing false material that are detrimental to the peace process."

Police and the ECOMOG force have teamed up in Freetown in an effort to combat an upsurge in armed robberies in the capital, now reported to average ten a week. "Operation Clean City" calls for increased arming of the police, the creation of an intelligence unit to receive information from residents on criminal activity, and for the deployment of security personnel in four zones across the city. 

27 August: United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Carol Bellamy has hailed a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the use of children in armed conflict, according to a UNICEF press release issued on Friday. "This remarkable achievement is a major boost to efforts to protect the rights of millions of children who are killed, maimed, orphaned and driven from their homes by conflicts around the globe," Bellamy said. "UNICEF has long fought to end the recruitment of some 300,000 child soldiers around the world. This resolution strengthens our campaign to disarm, demobilise, rehabilitate and reintegrate these youngsters." In October 1998, Bellamy travelled to Sierra Leone to demand the demobilisation of an estimated 4,000 child soldiers — 2,500 believed serving in the ranks of the RUF, with the balance having been recruited by the Kamajor militia. On Friday, she pledged UNICEF's full support for the Security Council's recommendations to protect girls from rape and other forms of gender-based violence, and to intensify other ongoing campaigns for children. "UNICEF will support all efforts that identify children as an explicit priority in building peace and resolving conflicts," Bellamy said in the statement. UNICEF is operational before, during and after armed conflicts. So we have seen how the same children that we have helped nurture, immunize and educate are now being systematically targeted and brutalised. This landmark resolution is a testimony to the millions of children that have suffered the horrors of war."

ECOWAS foreign ministers meeting in Lomé, Togo on Friday praised the Sierra Leone government's efforts to implement the peace agreement signed last month with the RUF. A communiqué issued after the meeting also called on RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh to return to Freetown in order to implement the provisions of the accord. The ministers condemned cross-border attacks by Liberian rebels, and called on Liberia and Guinea to restore their good relations through dialogue and, to this end, requested the presidents of Togo, Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone to organize a meeting between the Guinean and Liberian leaders. The meeting was attended by the foreign ministers of Ghana, Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria and Togo, and by representatives of Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso. Meanwhile, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted Sierra Leonean refugees fleeing the fighting in Lofa County, Liberia on Thursday as saying that members of the RUF were fighting alongside the Liberian insurgents.

26 August: ECOWAS foreign ministers met in Lomé, Togo on Thursday to discuss the peace process in Sierra Leone and to attempt to defuse tensions between Liberia and Guinea caused by cross-border raids by Liberian dissidents. On Wednesday, ECOWAS Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate (pictured left) told reporters it was time RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh returned to Sierra Leone. "Corporal Foday Sankoh must be there on the ground: The government is ready and waiting for him to be in Freetown," Kouyate said. "Unfortunately, he is still here." Sankoh told the BBC on Tuesday that he expected to arrive in Freetown by the weekend or early next week.

Nigerian Defence Spokesman Colonel Godwin Ugbo said Thursday the initial withdrawal of 2,000 Nigerian troops from the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone would likely begin at the weekend because of "logistical problems." They were originally expected to begin leaving on Thursday. The Associated Press reported that ECOMOG soldiers from all over Sierra Leone were heading for Freetown in anticipation of the pullout. Nigeria plans to withdraw 2,000 a month until a battalion of 1,000 troops is left, to oversee the disarmament and demobilisation of combatants.

25 August: Nigeria will pull 2,000 of its estimated 12,000 troops out of the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone by the end of August, Nigerian Information Minister Dapo Sarumi said following a cabinet meeting in Abuja on Wednesday. "Another 2,000 will arrive in Nigeria by the end of next month," Sarumi said, adding that the withdrawals would continue "until only one battalion is left in Sierra Leone for the disarmament process." The Information Minister's statement came only a day after Nigerian Chief of Army Staff Major-General Victor Malu told a Freetown press conference that he did not expect Nigerian troops to begin leaving Sierra Leone until a United Nations peacekeeping force was in place.

Former AFRC Chairman Johnny Paul Koroma said Wednesday that although he did not take part in the negotiations which lead to the signing last month of the Lomé Peace Accord, he had given the agreement his support. "I gave my blessing when they signed the peace accord," Koroma told the BBC Focus on Africa programme. "But my own understanding with the way my men understand the document is different. Even though I tried to explain to them that the document covers all of us, but they were a bit concerned because they were saying that there is nowhere in the document that they made mention of them. But that is a matter we will have to resolve peacefully." Koroma said the concerns expressed by his supporters, some of whom kidnapped a group of U.N. military observers, ECOMOG soldiers, aid workers and journalists earlier this month, in part to protest their belief that they had been left out of the Accord, would not endanger the peace process. "No, not at all," he said. "We will handle that and we will make sure we settle all those issues." Koroma told the BBC he would return to Freetown as soon as he met RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, but acknowledged that the two had never before met face to face. "I have never met him before. This is going to be my first time meeting him," he said, adding: "I have some reserves." The former AFRC chairman said he was not bothered that he had not been given a position in the power-sharing arrangement between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF. "I will have my role to play," he said. "It all depends what God will give me to do." In response to a suggestion that his supporters might feel disgruntled because he had not been given a key position in the government, Koroma said: "I will have to talk to them to understand whatever position I am given. I will make them understand and appreciate it."

Rebel troops this week attacked commercial vehicles and relief trucks along the Port Loko - Masiaka and Freetown - Masiaka stretches of highway, BBC correspondent Sylvester Rogers related on Wednesday. "According to Abubakar Sillah, president of the Sierra Leone Professional Drivers Association, the first attack took place between Port Loko and Gberi Junction," Rogers said. "(Sillah) said that RUF/AFRC combatants fired at a taxi travelling along the highway, seriously injuring some of the passengers. Two of them are now receiving treatment at the Connaught Hospital here in Freetown." In another incident, Rogers said, a relief truck on its way to Lunsar was attacked by rebels about 51 miles from Freetown. The attackers reportedly made away with about half of the relief supplies the vehicle was carrying, disdaining only to take bags of bulgur wheat. In another attack, two relief vehicles and a commercial truck bound for Sierra Rutile were looted at Masuri Junction by men wearing a mixture of military and civilian clothing. "The rebels are said to have told the drivers that if nothing is done by the government to get them out of the bush then these attacks will continue," Rogers said. "The rebels’ militant stance was confirmed by a pupil from the Annie Walsh Memorial school, who was abducted in January when the rebels invaded Freetown. He was released yesterday with a message from the rebels in which they said they would attack Masiaka Town on Friday unless their demands are met."

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has expressed concern over a number of recent attacks on the press in Freetown. On 20 August, an ECOMOG officer calling himself Major Anthony threatened Independent Observer Managing Editor Jonathan Leigh. "The officer apparently told Leigh over the telephone, 'If you get into ECOMOG's net again, you won't come out alive,'" the CPJ said. The threat against Leigh came in response to an 18 August satirical article which questioned ECOMOG's ability to keep the peace in Freetown in light of an increase in armed robberies in the city's East End. Also on 20 August, three RUF commanders — Brigadier Mike Lamin, Dennis "Superman" Mingo and S.P. "Brigadier Five-Five" Kanu assaulted For di People publisher Paul Kamara at the newspaper's Freetown offices. "Lamin, who was reportedly drunk at the time, hit Kamara in the face and smashed his glasses. An ECOMOG officer stood by and did nothing to prevent the assault," the CPJ said, nothing that Kamara is still unable to walk properly following a 1996 assassination attempt. "During the assault, the RUF commanders complained about an article published in 'For di People' that same day which claimed that the rebel commanders in Freetown were demanding fancy cars and daily allowances from the government," the CPJ wrote. "A photograph showed some of the commanders in question drinking at a Freetown bar. The three commanders said such reports endangered them and sent the wrong signal to RUF fighters still in the bush." The CPJ also referred to other reports of harassment of the press by members of the RUF and AFRC, sometimes in the presence of ECOMOG officials. "Earlier this week, an ECOMOG soldier escorted two former AFRC officials to the offices of the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) in the New England area of Freetown, where they demanded air time (which was not granted) in order to brief their fighters in the bush about the peace process," the CPJ said.

24 August: Former Agriculture Minister Dr. Harry Will, Agriculture Director Lamin Feika and businessman Alhaji Bockarie Kakay were charged in Magistrates Court on Tuesday with four criminal counts, including conspiracy to defraud, causing money to be paid with intent to defraud the government of Sierra Leone, obtaining money by false pretences, and causing money to be paid by false pretences. The prosecution, conducted by Minister of Justice and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa, alleged that the three had conspired with other persons unknown between 31July 1998 and May 1999 to defraud the government of $900,000. The prosecution further alleged that the Will and Feika had caused the World Bank to pay out $1,350,000 for supposedly supplying 1,000 metric tons of seed rice imported from Ghana to the Sierra Leone government. Magistrate Claudia Taylor set bail for each of the defendants at Le 300 million, along with two sureties each who must be approved by the Master and Registrar of the High Court. According to the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA), the sureties must be homeowners, and must also pay Le 150 million to the court, as well as surrender their documents of title deeds to the court. Taylor also ordered the accused to turn over their travelling documents to the Master and Registrar of the High Court.

RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh told the BBC on Tuesday that he was prepared to return to Freetown as soon as his security could be assured, possibly as early as this weekend. "Look, no one should force me to go to Freetown," Sankoh told the BBC Network Africa programme. "I said security should be paramount. I am not going to attend a marriage party. And mind you, I am going to work with the government and my people, so therefore I have to take great care. But at this moment I am preparing, my bags are packed. I'm just waiting for green light from President Eyadema. Most likely I will see him this week to say goodbye. I am ready to go back, but people should not feel that I am wasting time. It's not a matter of wasting time. Nine years, I have to take great care before I can go to Freetown. My men in Freetown, presently in Freetown, have to give me the green light that security is okay." Sankoh said he expected to arrive in Freetown by the weekend or early next week. "Again, matter of accommodation for me. Accommodation, transportation, even office is not yet prepared. All these things are in the pipeline waiting, so I have to wait. When the green light is given to me that everything is okay, then I can walk to Freetown." Sankoh said he wished to visit Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore, Ivorian President Konan Bedie, and Liberian President Charles Taylor before returning to Sierra Leone. "I should see them; it's a matter of must," he said. "They made their own contribution to this peace accord and, therefore, I have to say thanks to them before I can go home." Sankoh said he planned to travel to Freetown by way of "the liberated zone, behind the rebel line of the RUF." The rebel leader, who returned from Libya at the weekend, denied a suggestion that the Libyan government had provided military support for the RUF during the country's eight-year civil war. "You are making a big mistake," he said. "People are just making big mistake. Nobody (aided the rebels). My war, or the war in Sierra Leone, fought by the RUF, was a self-reliant struggle."

Two trucks carrying food and non-food items provided by the French charity Action Against Hunger reached Makeni on Sunday to relieve the city's starving population, the Regional Director of the Sierra Leone Professional Drivers' Association (SLPDA), Momodu Koroma, told the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) on Tuesday. Koroma said that "Brigadier T" and Tina Musa, the wife of the late AFRC Chief Secretary of State Solomon A.J. Musa, had put measures into place aimed at discouraging rebel troops from molesting civilians. Koroma also said repair work on the Mamsua Bridge on the highway leading to Lunsar was nearly complete. He added that rebel soldiers and Sierra Leone Roads Authority (SLRA) engineers had agreed to allow trucks carrying relief items to travel on to Lunsar and Makeni. Meanwhile, the General Secretary of the Sierra Leone Council of Churches, Alimamy P. Koroma (pictured right) said Sunday that 50 trucks of food would soon reach rebel-held areas in the north, the Concord Times reported in its Monday online edition. He said the delay in supplying cities such as Makeni and Magburaka was caused by the destruction of the Mamusa Bridge. "Because the main bridge linking the northern headquarters of Makeni was destroyed, and other difficulties beyond our reach, we think it fit to wait after reconstruction of the bridge," Koroma was quoted as saying. 

Nigeria's Chief of Army Staff, Major-General Victor Malu, told reporters in Freetown Tuesday that he did not expect Nigerian ECOMOG troops to begin leaving Sierra Leone until a United Nations peacekeeping force was in place. "I cannot see how Nigerian troops can start pulling out from Sierra Leone if there are no peacekeeping troops from the United Nations to stand in for the Nigerian soldiers,'' Malu said. "We were expecting that United Nations peacekeeping troops would have been in place by August 26, 1999, but unfortunately that has not been the case.'' Malu previously served as ECOMOG force commander until he was replaced by Major-General Timothy Shelpidi in January 1998.

The Paris-based journalists association Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF - Reporters Without Borders), in an open letter sent Tuesday to Minister of Internal Affairs and Local Government Charles Margai, protested threats alleged to have been made against two journalists in Freetown. RSF called on Margai "to use your authority to thoroughly investigate the aggression and condemn the individuals concerned." According to the RSF, on August 20 three high-ranking members of the RUF — Dennis "Superman" Mingo, Brigadier Mike Lamin and S. P. Kanu — "attacked the offices" of the newspaper For di People, ransacking the offices and beating the editor, Paul Kamara. "The RUF members had taken offence at an article published in the Monday 16 August edition of the newspaper, saying they had demanded money from the government for staying in Freetown and that they wasted money," RSF said. Liberia's Star Radio subsequently described the For di People article as accusing the RUF commanders of living in luxury while their fighters were dying of hunger and sickness in the bush. The RUF commanders physically assaulted Kamara and demanded to see Political Editor Olu Gordon, Star Radio said. Also on August 20, according to RSF, an ECOMOG officer, Major Anthony, threatened Independent Observer managing editor John Leigh in connection with an August 18 article "accusing ECOMOG soldiers of being inefficient against thieves...(and claiming) ECOMOG soldiers preferred the company of prostitutes to ensuring the security" of Freetown. "Major Anthony told the journalist that he would kill him when given the order to arrest him," RSF alleged.

23 August: Sierra Leone's Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and the Environment, Dr. Harry Will and Director of Agriculture Lamin Feika have been dismissed from their posts and charged with "corruption and related offences," according to a presidential statement issued on Sunday. Also charged was businessman Alhaji Bockarie Kakay. "Dr. Harry N. Will has been relieved of his duties as Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and the Environment and Mr. Lamin M. Feika, Director-General of Agriculture in automatically interdicted according to Civil Service regulations," the statement said. No details of the corruption allegations were provided, but the statement noted "the co-operation of the Ghanaian Government in the investigation that led to the discovery of this present instance of corruption." Ghana's Deputy High Commissioner told Freetown's Concord Times newspaper that following press reports alleging Ghana had sold Sierra Leone rotten seed rice, he had alerted his government to investigate the matter. The statement said President Kabbah had taken the decision to dismiss and prosecute Will "notwithstanding the fact that he believes that Dr. Will is one of Sierra Leone's best agriculturists and someone he had hoped will lead a team of committed people that will transform Sierra Leone from a country substantially dependent on foreign food aid to one that can grow food to feed its own people at affordable price," but added that the decision was taken "in the overall national interest."

Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy called Monday for tough restrictions on the diamond trade, which is causing instability in countries such as Sierra Leone and Angola. "I think one of the tragedies taking place in West Africa is that for economic reasons people are exploiting the resources, the diamond mine trade, and generating political conflict as a result of it," Axworthy said following talks with Sierra Leone's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Sama Banya. A United Nations committee headed by Canadian Robert Fowler is currently investigating ways to tighten the U.N.'s ineffective sanctions aimed at curbing diamond smuggling by Angola's UNITA rebels. "(The committee) has been looking actively into how those sanctions might be more effectively applied to people involved in the diamond trade — the outside traders, marketers, mercenaries, criminal groups and others who are exploiting it," Axworthy told reporters. "And if we can find the right formula — of course, a formula which was acceptable to the Security Council — then I think it would equally apply to the (Democratic Republic of) Congo and Sierra Leone." Referring to the Lomé Peace Accord signed last month between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF, Axworthy said: "I think what we should be working out is a vigorous intervention to make sure it does work."

RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh said Monday that despite delays in disarming RUF fighters in northern Sierra Leone, the peace process was still on track. "Look, it’s not easy to implement a peace accord," Sankoh told the BBC Focus on Africa programme. "We have to work out modalities [such as] security, accommodation, transportation, and even for the feeding of the men that are involved — in particular, the leadership of the RUF: Its security should be a paramount to everybody. And I think our people should realise that it will take time. But I can assure my people, and the international community, that the RUF is committed to that process. Very soon I will join them." Sankoh dismissed fears that the disarmament process had bogged down. "Ah, listen, people should not make things big out of small things," he said. "When you think of disarmament, you think about the welfare of the combatants. You know, the welfare of the combatants, they need food, they need drugs, and I am out to ask some friends to contribute towards that. So therefore disarmament —  you think about encampment before you think about disarmament." Sankoh rejected a suggestion that the delay in disarming his rebel forces was contributing to the soaring violent crime in the country. "It’s not our people, the RUF, is doing armed robbery," he said. "Mind you, even civilians and the Kamajors who are in Freetown, they are causing this problem. So people should not [go] with the idea that unless these people are disarmed — even after disarmament, we have to take great care. It will take time. The gun has gone into the wrong hands. People that are not trained, especially the politicians, their own relatives and, other people, so we should take great care. The fault should not be given to the peace accord or disarmament." Sankoh reiterated the RUF's commitment to lay down its weapons. "We’re going to disarm to anybody as far as the peace accord is concerned," he said. "According to the Lomé Peace Accord, we’re going to disarm. We’re going to disarm, we’re going to hand over our arms to anyone: ECOMOG, United Nations peacekeeping force, observer force. We are ready. We’ve made that decision and we are committed to it."

Rebel soldiers who earlier this month held hostage nearly 40 United Nations military observers, ECOMOG soldiers, aid agency officials and journalists now say they are committed to the peace process. "We are heavily committed to the peace process, and we have now accepted to immediately stop all hostilities against the motherland," Brigadier-General Bazzy Kamara told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) after his return to Freetown from Monrovia on Sunday. The rebel Sierra Leone Army soldiers had demanded the release of former AFRC Chairman Johnny Paul Koroma, whom they believed was being held prisoner by the RUF. They also complained they had been left out of the peace process. "From our discussions with our leader, Major Johnny Paul Koroma, and President Taylor, we are convinced that all soldiers have something in the (Lomé Peace) agreement," Kamara said. "We also had fruitful discussions with a high-powered rebel delegation which travelled from Kailahun to Monrovia to take part in the meeting." Kamara led an eleven-member delegation which included General George Johnson, Major Bangura, and General Kargbo. In an AFP interview on Monday, Sankoh said he warned the rebel soldiers against any further acts of insubordination. "I'm warning them not to hold any more hostages...they will be making a big mistake if they cause any more trouble," Sankoh said. He added that it was important he and Koroma "go together to Freetown" to begin implementing the peace accord. 

In a separate Agence France-Presse (AFP) interview on Monday, Sankoh said he planned to visit Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Liberia before returning to Freetown next week. "I went to Libya to say thanks to Kadhafi for his country's mediation in the peace process," Sankoh said from Lomé, Togo. ""I will hold an audience with good friends in Ouagadougou, Abidjan and then Monrovia before I go back to Sierra Leone." Sankoh said his return to Sierra Leone had been delayed by accommodation and security considerations. "Am I going to go into Freetown to be a beggar?," Sankoh asked, adding that the government had "not even set up an office yet" for his post as chairman of the newly-formed Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development, which will accord him the protocol rank of vice president.

BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima said Monday that over 11,000 Kamajor militiamen in Small Bo and Lower Bambara Chiefdoms in Kenema District had begun handing over their arms and ammunition to their battalion commanders. "During stops in southern and eastern Sierra Leone the Deputy Minister of Defence, Sam Hinga Norman, explained to the Kamajors the dangers in the procrastination in the disarmament process, and advised them to voluntarily hand over their weapons to their commanders, without waiting for any benefit, so as to make the process easier for ECOMOG and the United Nations team," Brima said.

22 August: Eunice Barber posted three personal bests at the World Athletic Championships in Seville, Spain over the weekend to win the gold medal in the heptathlon. The Sierra Leonean-born Barber, who became a French citizen in February, led reigning European and Commonwealth champion Denise Lewis of Britain by only one point at the end of competition on Saturday, but pulled away from the field Sunday to post a total of 6,861 points — ahead of Lewis, who scored 6,724 points to take the silver medal. Reigning Olympic and former World Champion Ghada Shouaa of Syria came third with 6,500 points. Barber achieved career best efforts in the 100-meter hurdles, the high jump, and the javelin. "It's wonderful," she said after winning the 800-meter race. "It's a victory for France, for the people who have supported me, for my club, but I also share it with with my family in Sierra Leone and I hope peace would return to my country." Barber competed for Sierra Leone in the last two Olympics, taking fifth at Atlanta in 1996 and fourth in the 1995 world championships.

Armed robberies in Freetown have more than tripled since the signing last month of a peace accord between the government and the RUF, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofanah reported on Sunday. The armed robbers, often wearing military uniforms, target both residences and businesses. In the eastern suburbs, which were the hardest hit during January's rebel invasion of Freetown, Kissy Zone Police Superintendent S.I. Jalloh said not a day passes without reports of armed robbery. "The latest incident involves an armed attack on the Queen Elizabeth II Quay, in which 17 robbers were nabbed while breaking into containers which were waiting to be cleared by their owners," Fofanah said. Police estimate that tens of millions of leones worth of property have been stolen so far. Police have been hampered in their work both because they are unarmed and because they have no night patrols. According to the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN), Sierra Leonean police officials met Thursday with senior ECOMOG officers to discuss a "rising wave of violent crime." ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukolade, in a press release issued on Friday, said security arrangements in Freetown had been modified in response to the increase in crime. The number of fixed checkpoints had been reduced and additional mobile patrols introduced, he said. "Now that we are relaxing security we don't want people to take advantage of this," Olukolade said. At Thursday's meeting, which was attended by President Kabbah, ECOMOG force commander Major-General Gabriel Kpamber said ECOMOG involvement "was necessitated by the urgent need to address the social menace of armed robbery and other violent crimes in recent times." The Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Kande Bangura, said that while the police force had the necessary manpower, it still needed ECOMOG involvement to bring the situation under control as quickly as possible. Fofanah cited reports that the police and ECOMOG were in the process of forming a joint patrol team to combat crime. 

21 August: After four events, Sierra Leonean-born French athlete Eunice Barber held a narrow one-point lead Saturday over Britain's Denise Lewis in the heptathlon at the World Athletic Championships in Seville, Spain. Barber easily won the opening event of the heptathlon, the 100-meter hurdles, with a personal best of 12.89 seconds. Lewis, the reigning European and Commonwealth heptathlon champion, finished forth. Barber also posted a personal best in the second event, the high jump, with 1.93 meters, but Lewis gained the lead after the shot-put, where Barber placed next to last among the 22 competitors. Barber regained a paper-thin lead by placing second in the 200-meter race, and at day's end posted a total of 3,994 points, one ahead of Lewis. The competition resumes on Sunday morning with the long jump, the javelin, and the 800-meter race. Barber, 26, became a French citizen in February. Meanwhile, Sierra Leonean runner Alpha Kamara placed seventh in the second heat in the first round of the men's hundred-meter race. The first three finishers in each heat, and those with the next ten fastest times, move on to the second round.

RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh denied Saturday a report that he had ordered the Ministry of Mines to submit a list of alluvial mining licenses to him. In a Concord Times article published on Friday, Regional Mines Engineer Sullay Sankoh was quoted as telling reporters in Bo he had "received a memorandum from my superiors in Freetown," and would soon be leaving for the capital with the compiled list. "I, Chairman Foday Saybana Sankoh, have never given instructions to the Ministry of Mines demanding to see the full list of alluvial diamond miners licenses," Sankoh said in a sent letter to the Sierra Leone Web and other online news services. "I can only believe that this is a ploy by the stated mines official to extort cash from Sierra Leone's miners." Sankoh rejected "the notion that I gave instructions to the Mines Ministry before I was sworn in as the Chairman of the CMSR & PWR." Sankoh, who has been visiting Libya, told the Sierra Leone Web he had spent the past two weeks "shuttling between Saudi Arabia and Libya trying to get food and medicines for Sierra Leone." According to Libya's Tripoli Voice of Africa radio, Sankoh left Libya on Friday night. 

Thousands of Kamajor and Kapra militiamen have gathered at the Seventh Day Adventist Mission compound at Yele, only to discover that the disarmament process has been delayed, BBC Bo correspondent Prince Brima reported on Saturday after visiting the town on Friday. He described the militiamen as feeling frustrated by the holdups. "Most of the Kamajors I spoke to yesterday expressed their willingness to be disarmed and return to their respective villages," he said. "In fact they were blaming the government to have delayed towards implementation of the disarmament process." Brima described Yele as being overcrowded with some 25,000 displaced persons, mostly from Kono and Tonkolili Districts who, he said, were living under deplorable conditions. "But definitely I saw an international NGO — that is, CARE — providing relief food materials, and also a British medical research centre has already established a clinic at the area which is now taking care of people," he told the BBC. "And most of the people I saw were not living in a very healthy condition. Most of them sleep around the house and school rooms." He said the displaced persons were determined to return to their homes, but were apprehensive that the delay in disarming the combatants might "create another trouble in the country." 

20 August: The United Nations Security Council approved on Friday the recommendation of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to increase the authorised strength of the United Nations Military Observer Mission in Sierra Leone to 210. Currently the authorised size stands at 70, although as of July 29 only 48 military observers had actually been deployed. The Council "authorizes the provisional expansion of UNMOSIL to up to 210 military observers along with the necessary equipment and administrative and medical support to perform the tasks," the resolution said. U.N. personnel would be deployed as security conditions permit. The Council pointed to "the urgent need to promote peace and national reconciliation and to foster accountability and respect for human rights in Sierra Leone," but also stressed "the importance of the safety, security and freedom of movement of United Nations and associated personnel." Sierra Leone's U.N. Charge d'Affaires, Foday Dabor, expressed his government's gratitude over the Council's decision, but added that he wished it had come earlier, "considering that the expansion is only provisional, and that under the terms of the Peace Agreement the disarmament and demobilization process was to commence two days ago." Dabor told Council members that despite the destruction of life and property, Sierra Leoneans were "prepared to bury the hatchet" to bring permanent peace to their country. "It is a bitter pill to swallow, but that is the price they are prepared to pay for peace," he said. "Therefore, we call on the international community to support the people of Sierra Leone in their search for peace, and not to do anything that would undermine the Peace Accord which was delicately negotiated by the parties in Lomé for about six weeks." Dabor expressed the hope that the additional U.N. military observers would be deployed as soon as possible in order to build confidence in the disarmament and demobilisation process, and that ongoing negotiations on the future peacekeeping mechanism in Sierra Leone, involving ECOMOG and the U.N. "would be expedited, and thus ensure that delays in the DDR process as a whole is not used by anyone as a pretext for reneging on the Peace Agreement."

A number of the United Nations Security Council members, while expressing support for the Lome Peace Accord accord, voiced their reservations over the Accord's provision of a blanket amnesty for those who had committed war crimes. The United States Charge d'Affaires, Ambassador Peter Burleigh, said that while the U.S. fully supported the peace agreement, "We are concerned...by the agreement's provisions for amnesty. We are eager to see the establishment of a credible Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as called for by the agreement. We also remain open to the possible establishment of an objective international fact-finding mission to document evidence of atrocities and provide information to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a basis for its work." United Kingdom Charge d'Affaires Ambassador Stewart Eldon: "The Lomé Agreement is not perfect. The inclusion of a blanket amnesty for those who have committed appalling atrocities has rightly caused concern. But this was one of the many hard choices which the Government and people of Sierra Leone had to make in the interests of securing a workable agreement...We will work with and assist the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation and Human Rights Commissions now foreseen for Sierra Leone." Gambian Ambassador Baboucarr-Blaise Ismail Jagne: "Like most delegations, we are concerned about blanket amnesty granted to the RUF. While this may not foster justice, we understand the circumstances under which it was granted...The people of Sierra Leone have played their part. The rest of the international community should also play its part. It is for them to pursue and bring to justice those accused of war crimes." Netherlands Ambassador Ambassador Peter van Walsum: "There is no peace without justice, and without accountability for the heinous crimes committed in Sierra Leone there will be no lasting peace in that country. International tribunals have been set up or are being set up precisely to remedy this culture of impunity, and we owe it to the people of Sierra Leone to allow them recourse to the same remedies now open to victims of similar crimes in other countries and on other continents."

About 400 rebel soldiers protested Thursday over the delay in disarming and resettling them. "We have been waiting for those responsible to disarm us for too long," said rebel commander Colonel Bockarie Fofana at Masumalia. "We have been in the bush doing sweet nothing. Many of us are willing to give up our guns in return for whatever the United Nations thinks of giving us." Fofana said the hundreds of rebels who had surrendered to ECOMOG but failed to turn over their weapons had forfeited cash payments from the government or the United Nations. "So a majority of fighters don't want to make such a mistake. ... They prefer to wait and disarm in nearby towns close to their camps," he said. Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa acknowledged delays in starting the disarmament process, but appealed for patience. "I appeal to them to hold on peacefully as the disarmament process will begin in a few weeks time," he said. "Such a program needs money and the government also has to provide areas of accommodation and these arrangements are in progress."

19 August: Authorities have shortened the night curfew in Sierra Leone by two hours, state radio announced on Thursday. The curfew will now run from 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. instead of from 8:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., according to a government statement.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) concluded two days of emergency food distribution in Lunsar on Thursday. The area has been inaccessible to aid groups since rebels captured the town in December. The distribution consisted of more than 150 metric tons of lentils, bulgur wheat and cooking oil. According to a CRS press release, the charity was able to reach about 15,000 people. "The people have been living on very little, nutritionally. There was no rice, and no real vegetables to speak of," said CRS Assistant Country Director Jacques Montouroy, who oversaw the distribution in Lunsar. "What we distributed should be enough for about two months, and we told them we would be back as soon as we were able." He said that roads in the region were poor, and that rivers now swollen at the height of the rainy season have made delivery of food more difficult. Makeni Bishop George Biguzzi, who earlier in the week conducted an assessment mission to Lunsar along with CRS Country Representative James McLaughlin, said a similar mission was being prepared for Makeni, where the population is reportedly facing imminent starvation. "If all goes well, the aid should be distributed next week, taking into consideration unavoidable logistical problems," Biguzzi said. "The people of my diocese are at an extreme and it is the children paying the highest price." Officials of the Sierra Leone Roads Authority said workers were repairing roads and bridges in order to facilitate access to the town. Biguzzi said local residents, together with the priests, were helping to repair a damaged bridge near Lunsar, in the Mamusa area. "The people, together with the priests, are helping to reconstruct the bridge that will facilitate communications. The works, which should be finished by Sunday, raised great enthusiasm and solidarity," he said.

A seven-member delegation from the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone is expected to hold talks with the rebels at their bases in Makeni and Lunsar, and in Kono and Kailahun Districts. The Inter-Religious Council, which helped to facilitate the peace talks which led to the signing of a peace accord between the government and the RUF last month, "want to explain to the combatants the accord in its proper perspective, so that the last rebel in the village will lay down his or her arms," Rev. Moses Khanu said.

Liberian Information Minister Joe Mulbah appealed to the United Nations Thursday for urgent food and medical aid for civilians fleeing fighting in the north of the country. Mulbah said Liberia does not have the resources to handle the worsening humanitarian crisis in northern Lofa County. Some 80,000 Sierra Leonean refugees currently live in Lofa County, where they fled to escape fighting in their own country. United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) spokesman Wagdi Othman said that the international relief organisations may not be in a position to provide immediate assistance in the remote region. He said there were unconfirmed reports that the WFP's main stock of 700 tons of food in Kolahun had been stolen. Meanwhile, Mulbah said Liberian troops were gaining ground against the insurgents who attacked the area last week. "We are in complete control of Kolahun and Foya and our troops are fighting seriously for Voinjama," he said. His claim was disputed by a rebel spokesman who told the BBC his "resistance group" remained in control of towns it had captured. There was no independent confirmation of either claim. 

Nigerian Acting Defence Department spokesman Colonel Godwin Ugbo said Thursday that cutbacks in the Nigerian military would have no immediate effect on Nigeria's commitment to peacekeeping efforts in the region. "We're still committed to peace in West Africa and other nations of the world," Ugbo said. "The reduction is a process which will take years and the defence minister gave modalities which include training, retraining and replacement of equipment." Nigeria intends to reduce the size of its military from 80,000 to 50,000 over a four year period. On Tuesday, Defence Minister Theophilus Danjuma indicated that the reductions might affect Nigeria's commitment to regional peacekeeping efforts. Nigerian soldiers make up the vast majority of troops serving with the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone.

18 August: Tens of thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees have been trapped by fighting between insurgents and government troops in Liberia's Lofa County, the BBC reported on Wednesday. Aid workers arriving in Monrovia by air say an unspecified number of the refugees have died from bullet wounds and hunger since the fighting began last week. "Armed men retreating from combat positions have reportedly attacked refugee camps, forcing people to flee in order to take charge of their belongings. Some are deliberately gunned down," the BBC said, quoting officials of the  Liberia Refugee, Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC). Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Liberia, Kemoh Salia Gbao, said he was concerned about the refugees trapped in the region and had made representations to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to investigate. He added that, according to his information, the vast majority of the Sierra Leonean refugees had fled into the bush to avoid attack. LRRRC officials described the humanitarian crisis in Lofa County as alarming. They indicated that the worst-hit towns were four villages off the main highway leading to the provincial headquarters of Voinjama. "Of the over 80,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Lofa County, 57,000 are not assisted by relief agencies due to the inaccessibility of the towns in which they live," the BBC noted. The Liberian military has warned the UNHCR that the rebels could advance on Vahun, causing the agency to withdraw its staff to Monrovia. Vahun holds some 12,000 Sierra Leonean refugees who fled to Liberia in early 1998, while Kolahun, which was attacked last week, has about 20,000 refugees. UNHCR officials expressed concern that the absence of humanitarian personnel and the reported looting of food stocks might create additional hardships for the refugees.

A senior civil servant working with the government's disarmament programme, Ken Macarthy, alleged Wednesday that there have been serious delays in disarming combatants. Under the Lomé Peace Accord, the demobilisation and disarmament programme was to have got underway on Wednesday. According to Macarthy, only 300 of an estimated 20,000 rebel fighters had turned in their weapons. There was no word as to whether the pro-government Civil Defence Forces had begun to disarm. Officials of ECOMOG and the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) declined to comment on the reported delays. There have been previous reports that combatants have begun returning home without reporting to demobilisation centres, or that rebel fighters have turned up at the centres without their weapons.

Nigeria plans to cut the size of its armed forces by 30,000 to 50,000, Nigerian Defense Minister Theophilus Danjuma said on Tuesday. He indicated that this might mean a reduction in his country's commitment to the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone. "(Regional peacekeeping) is not in our long-term interest because of its enormous cost to our national economy, more so as there are other competing needs for those resources at home," Danjuma said. Nigerian soldiers make up the vast majority of troops serving with the ECOMOG force. President Olusegun Obasanjo has said he would withdraw Nigerians from Sierra Leone as soon as the security situation permits.

The process of demobilising and disarming combatants in Sierra Leone's eight-year civil war was due to get underway on Wednesday, according to the terms of the Lomé Peace Accord. The Accord stipulates that "The encampment, disarmament and demobilization process shall commence within six weeks of the signing of the present Agreement in line with the deployment of the neutral peacekeeping force."

17 August: Rival factions of rebel soldiers from the former Sierra Leone Army have clashed in the area around Okra Hill east of Freetown where one of the groups has its base, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported on Tuesday. Circumstances surrounding the fighting, which broke out on Friday, were said to be unclear. One rebel commander, Salifu "Colonel Tito" Mansaray was reported killed in the fighting. Meanwhile in Kenema, Kamajor militiamen and RUF fighters embraced and danced together Monday at reconciliation ceremonies near Kenema, according to state radio.

Liberian President Charles Taylor has lifted a state of emergency along his country's border with Guinea, the site of recent attacks by Liberian dissidents, but Liberia's borders with Sierra Leone and Guinea remain closed. "Due to the valiant efforts of our security units, much progress has been made in bringing the military situation under control," Taylor said in an address to the nation. "We have therefore determined that the situation no longer warrants a continuation of a state of emergency and hereby declare the immediate lifting of the state of emergency." Meanwhile, a Liberian rebel spokesman calling himself "Mosquito Spray" and claiming to belong to the "Coalition Forces for the Liberation of Liberia," told the BBC the rebels had advanced as far as central Liberia. He denied claims made Monday by Defence Minster Daniel Chea that the rebels were being backed by the Guinean military. "That is absolutely baseless, it is misleading, and it is false," he said. "How can Guineans shell on our behalf?... This is an information that is totally baseless. Guinea has not given us any military support." Mosquito Spray claimed that RUF and AFRC rebels in Sierra Leone were attacking his group's positions, but added: "As I talk to you now, they are also on the run because a battalion will soon be chasing them over." There was no independent confirmation of his claims.

16 August: Liberian Defence Minister Daniel Chea accused Guinea on Monday of using its artillery to back rebels who last week launched attacks on Liberian border towns from inside Guinea. "Even now our people in the front line are experiencing artillery support fire from the Guinean side," Chea said. "Every time they make some progress they come under artillery fire, and it is coming from the direction of the Guinean border. ... It can't be from anywhere else but Guinea. Given the new situation...we're now considering other options very, very seriously." The rebels, who have referred to themselves as the Joint Forces for the Liberation of Liberia, say they are Liberians who were sent by President Charles Taylor to back the rebels in Sierra Leone's civil war, but became disenchanted with Taylor after rebel setbacks, Reuters reported on Monday. The Liberian government has continually denied accusations by the international community that it provided support to the RUF. Meanwhile, Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan urged the Mano River Union member states — Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea — to abide by the Union's protocols, particularly those dealing with security and non-aggression.

Over $24 million will be required to expand the United Nations Military Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) until details are finalised for an enhanced U.N. peacekeeping presence in the country, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Friday. In an addendum to his July 30 report to the Security Council, Annan said the funding would cover the 10-month period ending in June 2000, and would cover the gradual phase-in of an additional 140 military observers. The money would also be used to pay for 59 international and 21 local UNOMSIL civilian staff members. 

Aid workers and members of Sierra Leone's Inter-Religious Council toured the town of Lunsar on Saturday. "The purpose of our mission is to organise the distribution of humanitarian aid which should begin Tuesday," Makeni Bishop George Biguzzi (pictured left) told the Rome-based Missionary Services News Agency (MISNA). "In the Makeni diocese the people are dying of hunger," Biguzzi said. "It is especially the little ones who are paying the very high price." 

The main highway linking Mange and Kambia with Guinea has reopened to civilian vehicular traffic, the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) reported on Monday. The reopening of the highway resulted from a meeting on August 8 between the ECOMOG battalion commander at Mange and RUF/SLA soldiers, the news agency said.

A team of U.S. congressional staffers visited Kenema last week to observe at first hand how U.S. government funded projects were doing, Ambassador Joseph Melrose told Freetown's Concord Times newspaper. While in Kenema, the staff members toured the MERLIN feeding centre, while in Freetown they visited the CRS Housing Assistance Programme and paid a courtesy call on the ECOMOG High Command. Melrose told the Concord Times that the U.S. was working in several sectors, including the housing project. He put the value of U.S. funding at about $35 million.

14 August: ECOMOG said Saturday it had released 57 rebel prisoners-of-war, most of them boys between the ages of 9 and 17 [according to Reuters. ECOMOG and UNOMSIL were subsequently quoted as saying that none of the freed prisoners were children]. "With the Lomé peace accord we have no reason to continue to hold RUF prisoners of war. We released them to keep in line with the Lomé peace agreement and encourage the implementation of the agreement," said ECOMOG force commander Major General Gabriel Kpamber. He said some of the prisoners-of-war had decided to remain behind because of the humanitarian treatment accorded to them during their detention, according to the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) The prisoners were turned over Friday to the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL). The release followed a meeting at Wilberforce Barracks between ECOMOG and UNOMSIL officials and a three-member RUF delegation led by RUF People's War Council Chairman Solomon Y.B. Rogers and including RUF Brigadier Mike Lamin and Sahr Kaigbanja of the AFRC. "We will immediately inform the RUF leader about this positive development, and we assure ECOMOG that the RUF will soon be releasing all the rest of the ECOMOG prisoners with us," Rogers told reporters. According to the BBC, the rebel delegation raised the issues of alleged attacks by Guinean security forces on RUF positions, security for RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh when he returns to Freetown, and the process of building a new national army. They were reportedly guaranteed maximum security for Sankoh and assured that rebels who med the criteria for enrollment in the army would not be discriminated against. The commander of the Guinean ECOMOG contingent, Colonel Hadji Kante said the clash between Guinean soldiers and RUF fighters occurred after a large number of armed personnel crossed the river separating the two countries and crossed into Guinea. The Guinean government has directed its military to pursue across the border rebel forces which, it claims, have been attacking Guinean border villages. Meanwhile, the rebel delegates promised that more abducted children would soon be set free, but refused to commit to a definite time.

Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea will hold a summit meeting in Conakry next week to discuss security issues following this week's rebel incursion into Liberia from Guinea, Ivorian Foreign Minister Amara Essy said on Saturday. "The aim is to get Presidents Lansana Conte and Charles Taylor around the table," Essy said. Meanwhile the rebels, who call themselves the Joint Forces for Liberation of Liberia, attacked the Liberian army with heavy weapons Saturday morning after releasing 96 hostages on Friday, including six Western aid workers. A Sierra Leonean delegation led by Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Dr. Sama Banya was in Monrovia on Friday to discuss "tensions in the sub-region arising from rebel activities in Liberia," according to a statement issued in Freetown. "There is a clear commitment among the leaders to restoring normalcy to the security situation in their respective countries," the statement said.

The remaining Malian ECOMOG troops are set to leave Sierra Leone on Monday. Their commander, Colonel Kane, reportedly took leave of President Kabbah on Thursday and, according to the BBC, a send-off party was held for the departing troops by the ECOMOG High Command. Mali sent 428 soldiers to Sierra Leone in February, but domestic pressure for their withdrawal increased after they were involved in hostilities with rebel troops at Port Loko in May. The Belgian government, which financed Mali's participation in ECOMOG for an initial six month period has reportedly declined to renew the funding. 150 Malian soldiers left Sierra Leone on August 2.

12 August: Barclays Bank PLC will sell its 60 percent stake in Barclays Bank Sierra Leone and pull out of the country after 82 years of operations in the country, the Sierra Leone government announced on Thursday. The government said Barclays currently holds one third of all accounts in Sierra Leone. At one time the bank, with numerous branches throughout the country, commanded 50 percent of the banking market. After more than eight years of civil war, the bank was left with only two locations, both in Freetown. Since the May 1997 military coup, the bank has suffered huge losses, and as of 31 December 1998 had assets of only £1.6 million ($2.6 million). "The government has consequently acted in an effort to ensure the continued stability of the country's banking system and payments mechanisms," the statement said. The Sierra Leone government will buy 51 percent of the stock, with the remaining 9 percent going to Barclays employees. The government will sell its share to the private sector when conditions permit.

A six-member delegation headed by Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Dr. Sama Banya arrived in Monrovia Thursday evening with a special message from President Kabbah, according to a statement issued by Liberian Information Minister Joe Mulbah. Mulbah did not disclose the purpose of the visit, but it was reportedly related to the incursion by Liberian dissidents along the border with Sierra Leone and Guinea. Meanwhile, the Liberian government said Thursday its troops had attacked rebel positions at Kolahun, where the rebels are holding six Western aid workers. "As I speak to you, clashes are taking place at several fronts, and we are determined to see a quick end to this fighting," a Liberian defence department spokesman said. Mulbah said the foreign and defence ministers of Togo were expected in Monrovia on Friday, carrying a special message from President Gnassingbe Eyadema.

The reunification of children released by AFRC rebels Tuesday with their families was due to begin on Thursday, according to a UNICEF press release. The children were first taken to the Lakka Interim Care Centere where they were given a medical examination and preliminary counseling. The abducted children had been held for months and, in some cases, years, according to UNICEF. 90 of the children were under the age of 13, and some were said to be very malnourished. Five of the ten mothers in the group were thought to be teenagers, one with a baby only five days old. The Sierra Leone government expressed concern about other civilians still in captivity, and "calls upon those responsible and their partners to release them immediately and unconditionally, in accordance with their commitment under the Lomé Peace Agreement."

The Sierra Leone government said it had investigated claims by the RUF of attacks against its forces in eastern Sierra Leone, and that neither its security forces, the Civil Defence Forces, nor the Guinean authorities knew anything about the alleged incidents, according to a news release issued on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie told the BBC that Guinean soldiers had attacked RUF his troops near Koindu, in Kailahun District, and threatened "all out war" unless they ceased.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Thursday that humanitarian needs in Africa were reaching irrevocable crisis proportions, and expressed alarm at the poor response by the international community. In a statement released through his spokesman, Annan said that U.N. agencies and their partners require $796 million to assist over 12 million people in need throughout Africa during 1999, yet only $352 million had been received. "As a result, humanitarian programmes have had to be cut back and even life-saving assistance in many instances is not being provided where it is urgently required," the statement said. In Sierra Leone, Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Eritrea, serious humanitarian needs have gone unmet because of poor donor response. "In the developing world many countries are experiencing unprecedented economic growth and robust budget surpluses," Annan said. "Yet, international aid budgets continue to stagnate or decline. The Secretary-General appeals to donors to make a special effort now to help the victims of conflicts and natural disasters in Africa." The U.N. Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Sergio Viera de Mello, said major donors had told the United Nations that donations to Kosovo had exceeded their forecasts, forcing them to make cutbacks elsewhere. Viera de Mello blamed the lack of funds on "donor fatigue", set against "a background of positive growth rates and booming stock markets." He acknowledged that many African countries "are perceived as chronically insecure and that aid spent there, it is thought, is in danger of being wasted," but added this could become "a self-fulfilling prophecy." Without assistance, "countries risk collapsing into violence and war," he said. "Victims seldom have any control over the political and military leaders who perpetrate the violence. They should not be penalised for the callousness and irresponsibility of their leaders." The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has received $225.7 million for the 850,000 refugees in Kosovo for 1999, or $265.50 per person, as opposed to the $127 million received to care for four million African refugees which amounts to only $31.75 per person for the year.

11 August: Some 200 women and children who had been held by AFRC rebels since January arrived by truck convoy in Freetown late Tuesday, along with the last group of freed hostages who had been abducted by the rebel soldiers on August 4. Aid workers said many of the people had been traumatised by their ordeal. The children were taken to a reception centre to be cared for by representatives of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other agencies. Meanwhile on Wednesday, the commander of the rebel soldiers, Brigadier Bazzy Kamara, apologised for abducting some 40 U.N. military observers, ECOMOG soldiers, aid workers and journalists last week, but said his troops had secured their main objective: the release of their leader, former AFRC chairman Johnny Paul Koroma. "We have released all hostages because we are confident our commander and former military leader Major Johnny Paul Koroma has also been released from detention," Kamara said. The soldiers alleged that Koroma had been held prisoner by the RUF for the past seven months, a charge denied by the rebels and by Koroma himself. "What we did in holding foreign and local nationals hostage was absolutely in violation of the cease-fire agreement," Kamara admitted. He said his group had seized the hostages because they felt left out of the peace process. "But let me assure the world that we are going to adhere to the peace accord strictly," he added. Kamara said he and three of his field commanders were on their way to Monrovia, Liberia to meet with Koroma. "While in Liberia we are going to discuss how we are going to disarm and to who, and to know from him if those (former soldiers) who want to go back to the national army will be accepted if they meet the necessary criteria," Kamara said. "And after that we would like to free all abductees of about 10,000 civilians including 2,000 remaining children."

Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer acknowledged in a SABC (South African radio) Wednesday that provisions of a blanket amnesty in the Lome Peace Accord might preclude justice being done. "But we had no alternative," Spencer said. "Of course you cannot be negotiating with people saying, 'Stop this type of thing,' and then you say to them, 'Well, when you stop, we are going to prosecute you.'" Spencer pointed to the disparity in resources given to Sierra Leone as opposed to those dedicated to other nations in experiencing conflict. "Compared to a place like Kosovo, the world attention and the huge resources put into trying to solve the problem — Sierra Leone has received a pittance," he said. "So we were trying to find a way to deal with the problem, bearing in mind the kind of isolation and lack of support that Sierra Leone has received. There maybe a sense that perhaps some injustices have been done to the victims." Spencer said a Truth and Reconciliation Commission provided for in the peace agreement would look at the issues and make recommendations to ensure they didn't happen again. "Provisions are being made for the victims of the war — a special trust fund, and so on," he said.

Liberian President Charles Taylor closed his country's borders with Sierra Leone and Guinea on Wednesday after rebels reportedly occupied the border town of Kalahun, in northwestern Liberia. "On August 10, the nation came under military attack by dissident forces out of Guinea," Taylor said in an address to the nation. "At the moment, according to reports from the area, Kalahun city and surroundings have been occupied by these forces." A British Foreign Office spokesman said it had received reports that six foreign aid workers, including four British nationals, had been abducted in northwestern Liberia, close to the Sierra Leone border. "We understand that they were taken by an armed gang. We are investigating the situation and exploring all options," the spokesman said.

10 August: AFRC rebels released the last of their hostages on Tuesday, along with some 200 women and children whom they had abducted previously. "The hostage drama is over," Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer told a press conference in Freetown. "As I speak to you now the final 20 (hostages) are on their way to Freetown... No one was hurt and everybody came out alive." The last group to be released consisted of 20 ECOMOG troops — 5 officers and 15 soldiers — and a Kyrgyz military officer attached to the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), who had volunteered to remain Monday until the captive civilians were released. UNOMSIL commander Brigadier-General Subash Joshi told the news conference that the freed military observers who wished to continue their duty could stay in Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, RUF People's War Council Chairman Solomon Y. B. Rogers condemned the kidnappings, saying the rebel group "vehemently condemn the abduction incident." Rogers, who headed a delegation to Freetown to meet with President Kabbah, insisted that "the abduction incident will not derail the peace process." Kabbah said he "commended the efforts" of RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, former AFRC chairman Johnny Paul Koroma, and Liberian President Charles Taylor to secure the hostages' release. BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle quoted the U.N. as saying the military hostages were "all fit and well," but that some of the children were in poor condition. "That’s not surprising," he said. "Everyone in this camp, including the rebels, have been short of food and medical care for a long time. That, indeed, was the complaint of the rebels, that they needed food and medicine." Spencer also referred to reports that the women and children were weak, and that some of the girls were pregnant. He said that once they were in Freetown they would received medical attention and trauma counseling before being returned to their families. Spencer also disclosed that four senior AFRC officers involved in the hostage crisis had arrived in Freetown, and were expected to fly to Monrovia on Wednesday to meet their leader, former AFRC chairman Johnny Paul Koroma, and "discuss their grievances." He added that Liberian President Charles Taylor was expected to send a plane to transport the four to the Liberian capital.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, through his spokesman Fred Eckhard, welcomed the release of the hostages. "The Secretary-General once again calls on all parties involved to respect the safety and security of United Nations and other international personnel operating in Sierra Leone, and to take measures to ensure that the recent events are not repeated," Eckhard said. "He also urges all parties to proceed without delay with the release of all non-combatants, including children and prisoners of war. With the resolution of this deplorable episode, all Sierra Leoneans and the international community should now look ahead and devote all energies to the implementation of the Lomé Peace Agreement."

RUF commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie accused Guinean troops of attacking RUF positions in Kailahun District on Tuesday, and threatened a resumption of hostilities if the attacks did not cease. "Just about 1500 (3:00) this afternoon, I got a report from my commander in Koindu area that the enemy have attacked our position, and that attack is presently going on. Our men are repelling the attack from Guinea, the Republic of Guinea," Bockarie told the BBC Focus on Africa programme. "I think I consider that to be the Guinean’s troop, because we don’t have any enemy in that area. Up to this moment we have been on our river bank and I have informed General Joshi who is the senior military observer here, he knows about it... He said he’s going to take an immediate action and call me back to inform me. This is what is happening." Bockarie called the Guinean action "a complete lapse" in the peace process, and threatened that if action were not taken within the next 48 hours "it will be a all-out war" against the Sierra Leone government "because I believe the government should put a stop to that." Bockarie said that President Kabbah should take an active in role in ending the attacks, "because we are one now, as President Kabbah is the president of a new government, and I believe he must take this very serious too, to maintain the peace process." Guinean troops and RUF fighters last clashed at Koindu in mid-June, after Guinean Defence Minister Dorank Assifat Diasseny announced that the Guinean army had been given a mandate to pursue rebels who had been raiding border villages into Sierra Leone, and to destroy their bases. The RUF denied their forces had been involved, and accused the Guineans of cease-fire violations which could endanger the peace process. Guinea is not a party to the cease-fire agreement or to the Lomé Peace Accord, although the country has a contingent of soldiers serving with the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone.

A team of staff members from the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee and International Relations Committee flew to Kenema on Tuesday, accompanied by U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone Joseph Melrose, according to a U.S. Embassy official.

The General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of Sierra Leone (EFSL), Crispin Cole, told the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network on Tuesday that the EFSL had received reports one of its pastors, Rev. Francis Turay, was shot and killed Sunday between Makeni and Lunsar.

9 August: AFRC rebels released the remaining three captive British United Nations Military Observers on Monday evening, according to the spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, Fred Eckhard. "Three UNMOs from the U.K. were released," Eckhard said. Two other British soldiers were released on Sunday. Eckhard said the rebels were still holding a U.N. Military Observer believed to be a lieutenant-colonel from Kyrgyzstan, and 15 ECOMOG soldiers. [The Associated Press reported that 10 ECOMOG troops and two Sierra Leonean soldiers were still being detained.] A Sierra Leonean journalist, SLBS television cameraman Chernor Bangura, was also released on Monday. "They treated us fine," Bangura was quoted as saying. "We were given one meal a day and tea in the morning." The hostages were among between 30 and 40 U.N. Military Observers, ECOMOG soldiers, aid officials and journalists who traveled to the Okra Hill area on Wednesday to oversee the release of between 100 and 200 children being held by the former Sierra Leone Army soldiers. Upon their arrival, they were abducted at gunpoint. The four detainees were released Monday after former junta official Idrissa "Leather Boot" Kamara, now a top advisor to RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, met with the rebel soldiers to seek the hostages' freedom. Kamara was himself abducted by his former colleagues on Friday when he tried to negotiate the hostages' release. He was freed Sunday morning, but returned to the rebel camp the same evening to negotiate the release of 13 more hostages. The rebels have promised to free the remaining hostages on Tuesday, according to a Sierra Leone government official. Meanwhile, President Kabbah said Monday he had ordered his aides to arrange for the delivery of food and medicines to the rebels, which was one of their conditions for freeing their captives. "The order was passed through the vice-president (Albert Joe Demby) today," an official said.

Earlier Monday, British Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain said he hoped that the remaining hostages held by AFRC rebels, including three British officers attached to the United Nations Military Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), would soon be released. "We are hopeful that the remaining hostages, including the three remaining British officials and officers who are there, will come out sooner rather than later," he said. "When exactly I'm not certain, but I'm hopeful that it will happen within the next day or two." Hain said the freed British soldiers, identified as Lieutenant Colonel Ian Howard-Williams and Major John McEwan, had briefed the British negotiating team sent to Sierra Leone last week. "They have been filling in what has happened," he said. "The situation has been incredibly volatile and confused, with the rebels making demands that have not at all been consistent with the situation that we know to be outside. For example, they thought their leader had been incarcerated by a rival rebel group, so efforts have been made to establish communication between the two. But it's been very difficult because they've been isolated in the bush, well away from any proper communications." Sierra Leonean officials said the remaining hostages could be freed Monday. The hostages, which include U.N. military observers, ECOMOG soldiers, aid workers and journalists, were abducted on Wednesday after they travelled to the Okra Hill area east of Freetown to oversee the release of between 100 and 200 abducted civilians, most of them children, by the rebel group.

RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh appealed to the international community on Sunday to provide food and medicine to rebels in Sierra Leone as a way of advancing the peace process in Sierra Leone. Referring to the hostage crisis, Sankoh said the rebels "feel that they have been forgotten since the Lomé peace agreement was concluded." He expressed optimism that the hostages would be freed shortly. Sankoh called on former AFRC chairman Johnny Paul Koroma to join him in Togo so that they could travel to Freetown together "to prove that he is not under arrest" by the RUF, as his followers had alleged.

Former AFRC chairman Johnny Paul Koroma told reporters in Monrovia on Monday that some of the rebel soldiers who abducted between 30 and 40 hostages last week were expected to join him in the Liberian capital. "The hostages have been released already. And, maybe, my men will arrive (in Monrovia) today if everything goes well," he said. Koroma, who was described as being under heavy guard by troops belonging to Liberian President Charles Taylor's Special Security Unit, addressed the press at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He said former AFRC members had been invited to meet with him and express their grievances "so that I can take them to President Charles Taylor to try and see how best we can resolve that issue," adding: "I came here (Liberia) purposely to settle the problem that is in the jungle concerning the holding of the hostages, and also to settle their grievances so that the peace process can hold." Koroma declined to outline the rebel soldiers' grievances, saying only: "I cannot tell you their grievances until they meet me and explain." He added that he was in "regular contact" with the former soldiers and "that is why the (hostage) problem has been resolved." Koroma told reporters he was touring the region "to iron out whatever hitches there may be," and while he declined to reveal his next destination, he told the BBC on Saturday that he was on his way to Lomé, Togo to meet with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. Koroma maintained he was "not personally all concerned" about being left out of the power-sharing arrangement between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF. "In fact, that is the reason I am moving around to make sure if there are any grievances, we can iron them out," he said. He added that he had not gone to Togo for the peace negotiations, because the AFRC/RUF forces had sent delegates to brief Sankoh before the actual delegation left for talks. "But I gave my blessing that whatever came out of (the talks), we will support," he said. The former AFRC chairman described relations between the AFRC and the RUF as "very, very cordial, and nobody will split that relationship." He repeated his denial that he had been held prisoner by the RUF, as his followers had alleged, and explained that in the RUF hierarchy "Corporal Foday Sankoh is the leader and I am the deputy, while Sam Bockarie is the field commander." Koroma said his goal was to foster a united and peaceful Sierra Leone, adding that he would soon be visiting Freetown in furtherance of the peace process.

Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer, in a BBC interview on Monday, described the scope of the hostage crisis. "It’s not exactly small problem, because these are people who’ve been out there in the bush," he said. "They’re armed, they feel they’ve been neglected, they have not been receiving food and medicine, and so you have a group of people who are volatile. So that is why it’s being treated very carefully so that we don’t have any fighting breaking out." Spencer denied that the crisis should be viewed as an embarrassment to the government. "If it’s embarrassing it’s not so much for the government as it would be for the RUF, because they were all supposed to be one group," he said. "And if you have a few of them behaving like this, and even though they’ve been given orders to release (the hostages), they don’t seem to have complied quickly enough. I don’t think it’s embarrassing on the government." Spencer acknowledged that the hostage crisis was worrying, but said he thought the problem would be solved. "You know even amongst the RUF and the AFRC we must expect that there would be differing viewpoints, just the same way as there are differing viewpoints among civilians and among we the people in government. But at the end of the day, everybody if you understand what is going on, then everybody can be taken along. And that is what we are going to be working towards."

Sixteen African countries are facing "exceptional food emergencies," the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in its annual report, released on Monday. Sierra Leone, Angola, Burundi, Congo Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritania, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda are all in dire need, the report said. In Sierra Leone, "Implementation of the peace accord signed recently should improve the situation," the FAO noted.

The Paris-based journalists' group Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF - Reporters Without Borders) has included Sierra Leone among 20 countries it accuses as being "enemies of the internet." While RSF noted that 45 nations restrict their citizens' access to the internet in some way, "20 of these countries may be described as real enemies of this new means of communication." In the case of Sierra Leone, RSF pointed to attacks on the clandestine National Independent Neutral Journalists Association of Sierra Leone (the NINJAS). "As part of their repression of the opposition press, the authorities have also attacked an online newspaper," RSF said. "In June 1999, two journalists from the daily The Independent Observer, Abdul Rahman Swaray and Jonathan Leigh, were arrested. They were accused in particular of collaborating with the online newspaper "NINJAS", which is published on a site based abroad by journalists who have gone into hiding."

8 August: AFRC rebel soldiers freed at least 19 of the captives they they have held since Wednesday, according to U.N. officials in Freetown. Among those released on Sunday evening  were said to be seven U.N. personnel, two journalists, two ECOMOG soldiers, and to aid workers. Canadian political advisor Robert Gravelle was among those set free. Britain's Foreign Office confirmed that two British U.N. military observers had also been let go. Canada's Foreign Ministry said all of the hostages had been released, but there was so far no independent confirmation. "The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has been advised by the United Nations in New York that all of the hostages have been released," said Foreign Affairs spokesman Claude Demers in Ottawa. Diplomats have predicted that all of the hostages would be free by Monday. "I'm happy because I have been trying, making frantic efforts all these days to secure their release, so once they've been released today I'm very, very happy," former AFRC chairman Johnny Paul Koroma told the BBC radio from Monrovia, Liberia. "The problem was a lack of communication but that has been settled now."

Earlier, rebel soldiers holding more than 30 hostages freed five Sierra Leonean United Nations drivers and a former Sierra Leonean military officer on Sunday morning. The junta official had been held briefly after being sent to negotiate on behalf of the RUF. Nance Webber, spokeswoman for the U.N. negotiators, said they were optimistic that the remaining hostages would be freed. "We are hopeful but we are not giving it a time-frame," she said, adding that missed deadlines could suggest problems where there they did not exist. Strong rains swelled the river separating the rebel base from the highway, making it less likely that the hostages would be released on Sunday.  London's Sunday Telegraph reported that two British military officers serving with the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) had also been released to convey the rebels' demands to U.N. officials. A British government official disclosed, however, that the two had actually been freed on Thursday. According to the Sunday Telegraph, the two soldiers were helping negotiators by describing the swampy terrain in which the hostages were being held, and had warned against a military operation to try to rescue the other captives. A British Foreign Office spokeswoman did not confirm or deny the release of the soldiers, but said: "We have an agreement with the United Nations that we do not go into the nationalities of those working for them." The Sunday Telegraph identified five remaining British captives as Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Howard-Williams and Majors John McEwan, M. Rawlings, G. Bradley and T. Lyall. The Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We have an agreement with the Ministry of Defence that we do not confirm the names." Reuters reported Sunday that 28 hostages remain in captivity, while the Associated Press and the BBC estimated the number at about 25.

Sources close to the negotiators, who have been in contact with the rebel soldiers by radio from Freetown, said Sunday they were awaiting a response to recent developments. "It looks very optimistic. We are keeping our fingers crossed," one source said. Meanwhile, a U.N. official said efforts were underway to fly former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma from Monrovia, Liberia to Freetown. One of the rebels' key demands was for the release of Koroma, whom they allege was being held prisoner by the RUF. Both Koroma and RUF officials have denied the claim. Koroma told the BBC on Saturday that he had ordered the captives' release without preconditions. He said he had arrived in Monrovia and was on his way to Lomé, Togo to meet with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. "I am trying my best to get (the hostages) released by this evening," Koroma said from Monrovia on Sunday.

Former AFRC chairman Johnny Paul Koroma said in a BBC interview on Sunday that the rebel soldiers had informed him they had released all of their hostages. "What they’ve told me is that they’ve released all of them, because since this morning I’ve been putting pressure on them to release them," Koroma said from Monrovia, Liberia. "They were demanding that about four of them want to come and join me so that they can give their grievances to President Taylor so that he can put their case across, but I told them that they should first of all release all the hostages, and the women and children that they have, before they can travel to my location." He added that he was attempting to find telephone numbers for ECOMOG and UNOMSIL to learn whether all of the hostages had arrived there. Koroma repeated that he had never been a prisoner of the RUF, and attributed the rebel soldiers' belief that he was being held as due to "lack of communication." In response to an interviewer question as to whether he condemned the hostage taking, Koroma replied: "Oh of course. They’ve been hearing my interviews, I’ve condemned that outrightly. I’m against that. I’m not in support of that. That is why I tried by all possible means to secure their release." He said he had also ordered the release of the civilian abductees, which had been the original reason the captive U.N. military observers, ECOMOG soldiers, aid workers and journalists had travelled to the Okra Hill area on Wednesday to meet with the rebels. "I did order them to release them," he said. "But they told me that they were released, the hostages first, and then they get on to the children. I am going to put more pressure on them to release them."

7 August: Former AFRC chairman Johnny Paul Koroma told the BBC on Saturday that he had ordered his followers to release their hostages, and said they had "faithfully promised" to do so. "In fact this morning before I left I spoke to them, particularly the area where they held these people," Koroma said. "I told them to make sure they release them today, without any precondition. They’ve accepted that they are going to release them, including the children that they went to rescue from them." Koroma said the rebel soldiers were wrong in believing that he was being held captive by the RUF. His release had been one of their primary demands. "I am not a prisoner at all. I am a free man," he said. "The only thing is that (the rebel soldiers) were trying to see whether I am free. And after talking to you I will be talking to them over the radio set, that I’m now in Monrovia, trying to head for Togo. And since, once they’ve known that I’m in Monrovia, they will believe that I am totally free." Koroma said that he was on his way to Togo in order to meet with RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh "so that the whole world can know that I have not been under any confinement or under any other duress. I have been a free man ever since — since I came to Kailahun." Koroma said he would meet with Sankoh "any time from now." 

Negotiators said Saturday they had little hope of freeing the hostages — by varying accounts numbering between 30 and 40 — before nightfall. "Given the time of day we doubt there will be any releases today," a source to the talks told Reuters reporter Christo Johnson, himself held briefly by the rebels. "I think that by tomorrow morning we are more likely to have some more progress in the negotiations." Rebel soldiers of the former Sierra Leone Army, led by Brigadier Bazzy Kamara, seized a group of United Nations cease-fire monitors, ECOMOG soldiers, journalists and aid workers at the town of Magbini on Wednesday, where they had gone to witness the promised freeing of between 100 and 200 civilian abductees, most of them children. The rebels have demanded the release of Koroma, whom they believe is a prisoner of RUF commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie in Kailahun District, in return for the freeing of their hostages. They are also demanding a greater say in the peace process, reinstatement into the army, and food and medicines. The captives are reportedly being held at the rebels' main base, in the village of Bla. Earlier Saturday, Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer told the BBC that the rebels had agreed to free the hostages. "They have agreed to release them," Spencer said. "My guess is that it is the modalities which are being worked out now." He said an advance party was already holding talks with the former soldiers. "We are confident that they will be freed," he said. "All the indications are that they are not being harmed, and they will not be, so we do not think there is anything really to worry about. We try to be patient so that they are released and so that the whole matter is resolved peacefully." However, a spokesman for the British High Commission in Freetown said it was unaware of any commitment by the rebels to release the hostages. A British Foreign Office spokeswoman said officials had checked Spencer's comments with a British team sent to Sierra Leone to help negotiate the release of the hostages. "The rebels have said for a while that they would be willing to release those detained, but talks are continuing on how to achieve this in practice," she said. "The situation has not changed. Our understanding is that the rebels have said for a while that they would be prepared to release those they detained but that talks continue on how to achieve that. It is our understanding that there has not been any substantive move forward in the last 24 hours, but the talks continue." Meanwhile, President Kabbah urged international humanitarian groups Saturday to review their policy against providing assistance to combatants "in this exceptional case" in order to help bring about the release of the hostages. "This incident is a clear reflection of the need for international assistance to Sierra Leone ... since the reason stated for the abduction is the inability of the government to provide food and other relief materials for the 'sobels' (soldiers-turned-rebel)," Kabbah said.

The United Nations Security Council agreed Saturday to grant a 30 day exemption to the international travel ban on members of the former AFRC junta "in order to allow for the travel outside Sierra Leone of Johnny Paul Koroma." 

West African foreign ministers of the ECOWAS Committee of Seven on Sierra Leone met in Freetown on Saturday and demanded the unconditional release of all hostages and prisoners-of-war. The ministers also expressed appreciation to all sides for respecting the cease-fire and working toward the implementation of the peace accord signed in Lomé, Togo last month.

6 August: Negotiations to bring about the freeing of some 32 U.N. military observers, ECOMOG officers, aid officials and journalists held hostage by former Sierra Leone Army soldiers continued on Friday night, even as a a British Foreign Office spokeswoman acknowledged hearing rumours that they would soon be released. "We're aware of rumors that the release is imminent, but we don't have anything at the moment to substantiate those rumors," she said. State radio quoted Sierra Leone's foreign ministry as saying the plight of the hostages would be discussed in Freetown Saturday at a meeting of the ECOWAS Committee of Seven on Sierra Leone. 

The Sierra Leone government has asked Liberian President Charles Taylor to help resolve the hostage crisis, Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer said on Friday. He said Taylor is being asked to intervene with RUF commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie, to enable former AFRC chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma to contact his men." The rebels, former members of the Sierra Leone Army, are holding a group of United Nations military observers, ECOMOG troops, journalists and humanitarian workers at their local base in the village of Bla, near the Okra Hill area. The RUF has denied claims by the former AFRC soldiers that they are holding Koroma prisoner. Spencer said he thought the kidnapping was the result of a minor disagreement. "We are hopeful that it can be resolved by the end of the day," he said. "We cannot be absolutely certain, but that is what we are hoping for. It is possible."

RUF commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie called the BBC on Friday to deny that he was holding former AFRC junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma captive, as alleged by AFRC rebel soldiers holding U.N. military observers, ECOMOG officers, aid officials and journalists hostage since Wednesday. "It is incorrect. It is incorrect," Bockarie [top left] insisted. "Johnny Paul Koroma [bottom left] is not being held. He is there as a free man. He’s with me. I’m working closely with him while our leader is absent." Bockarie suggested that the BBC talk to Koroma on his satellite phone to confirm his statement. Neither the BBC nor other news agencies were successful in contacting Koroma on Friday. "Oh yes, we are together," Bockarie told the BBC Network Africa programme. "I think the Lomé peace facilitators that can attest to that, that we are together. When they visited my base here in Kailahun District — they came to consult us for the signing of the peace accord — they saw Johnny Paul Koroma present, participated actively in all the meetings that were held. We all were taped on a video cassette. And I think these people that entered in our zone took this cassette along, and we all are in that cassette. So that’s our clear indication that Johnny Paul is not under no duress, and that in fact he was well-dressed and as a gentlemen. In fact we in the Kailahun District here [firmly] believe in farming. He himself made his own farm wherein our natives are always in place to help us. He can attest to that. Johnny Paul is not being held. They are doing that (holding the hostages) for other reasons." Bockarie denied that the group of former soldiers represented a breakaway faction of the rebel movement. "They are just disobeying orders, but they are not breakaway," he said. "Nobody in the movement now can do that, as they do not have that support or the capacity to do so. If we have noticed that the we would have eliminated that ever since."

RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh said Friday the rebel movement considered the hostage crisis "to be an isolated incident with some brothers of the former SLA who are trying just to get something using the wrong method." In a BBC Network Africa interview, Sankoh said he thought the incident would have no effect on the Lomé Peace Accord, adding that the RUF was committed to its implementation. Sankoh denied that Wednesday's abduction of U.N. cease-fire monitors, aid officials and journalists was a sign of disunity within the rebel ranks. "Oh yes, we are together, there is no fraction, there is no breakaway group from the RUF," he said. "All these people were represented by their own brothers, a person like Bailor Bangura, Leatherboots (Idrissa Kamara), and (Sahr) Kaingbanja. These are representative of the former AFRC or what you call the former SLA combatants. And I am speaking to you, Paul Johnny Koroma is by the [?site], reinforcing my orders to these combatants to release these people as soon as possible." Sankoh dismissed as "all lies" claims by the soldiers that they were not represented during the peace negotiations in Lomé, Togo. "It’s all lies. They are represented," he said. "These boys, they stay in the north. They become disobedient to the High Command. Even they don’t want to take orders from even the Paul Johnny Koroma to send people to represent them. But they were represented. We worked in their interest, which helped us to make a peace accord which is known as Lomé Peace Accord. Johnny Paul Koroma is free to travel even right now to Freetown if he wish, because we planned that I should join him next week so that we can drive to Freetown with all the High Command and let the world know that we are really committed to the peace accord. I will not go to Freetown without Paul Johnny Koroma. He is my brother."

32 hostages seized by AFRC rebels on Wednesday had still not been released Friday, despite assurances from former AFRC Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Alimamy Pallo Bangura that they would be freed Thursday night following intervention by RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. Meanwhile, a British negotiating team consisting of Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ministry of Defence, police and military personnel arrived in Freetown on Friday. A spokesman said they expected to start talking to "major players" in Freetown shortly. The team reportedly  includes elite commandos of the Special Air Service, who have freed British hostages in the past, but Foreign Office Minister Peter Hain downplayed the possibility of military intervention. "This is not some gung-ho mission. This is a team of negotiating experts that wish to secure the safe and peaceful return of peacekeepers," he said in London. "I'm not anticipating that they fail." Hain said the British government wanted the hostage crisis resolved "peacefully and quietly if that is possible." Referring to the five British members of the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) among the captives, Hain said they were "peacekeepers who found they themselves were taken hostage, which is totally unacceptable." Hain stressed that the British team was trying to secure the release of not only the British, but also of the other captives. "We don't negotiate over the demands of terrorists, but we do negotiate with them over the safe return of any hostages. We hope to deploy that skill in this situation," he said.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema, who chair the OAU and ECOWAS, respectively, conferred by telephone on the Sierra Leone hostage crisis on Friday. "The Algerian and Togolese leaders expressed their common agreement that the hostages should be released immediately and unconditionally in order to allow the international community to carry out its engagements on humanitarian assistance," Radio Algiers reported. 

Liberian President Charles Taylor, in his regular monthly meeting with reporters on Friday, condemned the seizing of the hostages. "This action is outrageous, and we want to state unequivocally our condemnation of this act," he said. Taylor said he was "very disturbed" by the incident and that "any action of this sort tends only to becloud the (Sierra Leone) situation, and make the peace process very difficult." Reacting to claims that the former Sierra Leone Army soldiers had been left out of the peace process leading to the Lomé agreement, Taylor said there was "very intense diplomatic movement now to resolve this problem before it gets out of hand," adding: "I have over the night and this morning spoken to (RUF leader) Foday Sankoh and President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah on our willingness to assist in whatever way we can...and we are going to be doing everything to make sure the (peace) process holds."

Reuters reporter Christo Johnson has given an account of the events surrounding the taking of the hostages, published in separate chronologies Friday by Reuters and the BBC. "We first arrived in a village where (the rebels) released 22 children," he said. "From there we moved on to the place where we were supposed to collect another batch of children, which would have brought the number up to about 200. While waiting for these children to come in, we were told we would have to attend a meeting with the soldiers. We were invited to this meeting hall by a spokesman for the AFRC soldiers. And when we entered they asked us to stand for prayers. After prayers, rebel spokesman Major Albert Koroma read a statement saying that his group had been observing the cease-fire, but that they had run out of food and medicines and had received no international assistance. "We are running out of patience. If we do not have food and medicine now we will have no alternative but to go out and fight for them," Johnson quoted Koroma as saying. "While this was happening, a group of guys came in and said, 'Look, you guys, hands up!' - we put our hands up," Johnson said. "They said, 'Hands up, give up everything you have.' We had no alternative but to obey their instructions." Johnson said the rebels then forced them to walk  for about a mile through a swamp, where they crossed a river by canoe to their local headquarters, at the village of Bla. "From there we were taken to a mess. We were treated comfortably. They said, 'Look, don't get scared, we're not going to harm you. We just want the international community to know what our grievances are and you will have to take these grievances to the government and the world.'" The rebels' senior commander, Brigadier Bazzy Kamara, told the hostages they had nothing to fear. "All of you may rest assured you are not going to be killed or harmed," he said. You will go back safely when we are ready." Kamara told the five British members of the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) that Britain was responsible for the Sierra Leone conflict. "As young military men you should know that your British people, as our former colonial masters, are responsible for the situation in Sierra Leone today," he was quoted as saying. "But we are not going to harm you; We know you are our brothers and you have been assisting us a lot. We only want you and the world to understand our cause." Johnson said the rebels were all former members of the Sierra Leone Army. "One of the commanders said to us, 'Our problem is that the RUF general, that is Sam Bockarie, has arrested our leader, Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul (Koroma), who was chairman of the AFRC regime. He has been arrested and he has not been allowed to move.' All they wanted was for the government of President Tejan Kabbah to use his influence to get (RUF leader) Corporal Foday Sankoh and Charles Taylor to get Sam Bockarie to release Johnny Paul immediately. They wanted Johnny Paul to go to Freetown and to announce his position on the radio and instruct them to lay down their arms, which they can do as quick as possible, to keep the peace process going." Johnson described the rebel soldiers as "very, very desperate," adding: "They want their man, Johnny Paul, to be released because they are desperately in need of peace. If Johnny Paul is not released, I think they want want to fight the RUF." Johnson said the soldiers felt they had been betrayed by the RUF. "They thought Johnny Paul would have gone to the Lomé peace talks, but unfortunately Johnny Paul was not there. After carrying out their investigation, they came to realise that Johnny Paul had been arrested," he said. "Even whilst I was there, they radioed Johnny Paul. I heard them discussing, so I asked them if they were talking with Johnny Paul. They said, yes, but they also believed he was speaking under duress." Johnson said 40 children were released along with Makeni Bishop George Biguzzi on Wednesday. On Thursday, he was told that he and Haitian lawyer Peter Marvel would also be freed. "We were taken across the river and back through the swamp before being dropped off on a road," he said. "We walked about (six miles) to the headquarters of Nigerian peacekeepers in Masumana on the road to Freetown."

According to UNOMSIL Information Officer Jacqueline Chenard, who was briefly held before being released along with Bishop Biguzzi on Wednesday, the rebels are demanding the release of AFRC chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma, whom they claim is being held by the RUF, a role in the peace process, the re-integration of AFRC forces into the Sierra Leone Army, and supplies of food and medicine.

The French government called Friday for the release of the hostages abducted by AFRC rebels on Wednesday, and said it hoped the incident would not endanger prospects for peace. "France condemns with the greatest force the detention since Wednesday at Okra Hills in Sierra Leone of members of the U.N. mission to Sierra Leone, members of ECOMOG and members of humanitarian organisations," a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said. "France requests their quick release and hopes this incident in no way impedes the implementation of the Lomé Peace Accord signed on July 7 between the government of Sierra Leone and the RUF."

5 August: 32 members of the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), ECOMOG officers, aid officials and journalists were abducted by rebel forces Wednesday in what was to have been a meeting between the two groups to oversee the freeing of (by varying accounts) between 100 and 200 civilian abductees, most of them children, still held by rebel forces. The incident took place about 40 miles from Freetown, near Okra Hill — so named because the highway at that point becomes dangerously slippery when wet — near the rebel base. Makeni Bishop George "Giorgio" Biguzzi and UNOMSIL Information Officer Jacqueline Chenard were released later in the day. Reuters correspondent Christo Johnson and an unidentified civilian member of UNOMSIL were let go on Thursday. The civilian abductees were not released. Chenard said that after releasing a handful of prisoners, the rebels began complaining that they needed food and medicine, and said they wanted to talk to the U.N. about their plight. They then turned their weapons on the group and marched them into the forest, she said. Johnson said the hostages were being held at Magbini, about 55 miles east of Freetown. "We were well treated, although at first we were held at gunpoint," Johnson said. He added that the freed hostages had been given letters to hand over to the Sierra Leone government, UNOMSIL, and U.S. officials. While the contents of the letters were not disclosed, Johnson said the soldiers felt betrayed by RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh. They asked that Kabbah use his influence to persuade the RUF to free AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma, and that he be flown to Freetown to broadcast an appeal for them to lay down their arms, Johnson said. Koroma, officially number two in the RUF hierarchy, is among those submitted by the RUF to be considered for four cabinet posts allocated to the rebels under the Lomé Peace Accord. Biguzzi also quoted his captors as complaining that the Lomé Peace Accord favoured the RUF at the expense of the former Sierra Leone Army soldiers. According to BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana, the former soldiers were demanding to be reinstated into the army. Johnson said the soldiers wanted the international community to know that they had observed the cease-fire which took effect on May 24, but that they were in desperate need of food and medicine. The abductors promised they would release their hostages when their position in the peace process was clarified, and when they had received food and medicines.

Among those abducted were, by differing accounts, either 10 or 13 unarmed members of UNOMSIL, including five British nationals; an unknown number of ECOMOG officers,  journalists Pasco Temple of Liberia's Star Radio, Ade Campbell of SLBS and SLBS television cameraman Chernor Bangura, and Reuters correspondent Christo Johnson (later freed). U.N. sources said they believed workers from the French charity Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) and Roman Catholic agencies were among those abducted. Makeni Bishop George Biguzzi and UNOMSIL Information Officer Jacquelyn Chenard were among those seized, but were subsequently freed. "Discussions are going on and we hope the situation will be resolved by today and that the abductees will be released," Chenard said on Thursday.

Former AFRC Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Alimamy Pallo Bangura told the BBC Thursday that RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh had ordered the release of the hostages. Bangura denied suggestions that the abductions had been the work of a breakaway group within the RUF. "That is not so, there is no breakaway group," he said. "There is unity in the movement, and the former Sierra Leone Army and the RUF/SL are working closer together." Bangura claimed that the abductions were the result of "efforts at inciting groups" within the RUF. He did not elaborate. "They have been detained to make a point, and the Leader has intervened, and these people are going to be released by this evening," he told the BBC Focus on Africa programme. Bangura disputed whether the officials had been abducted. "You are saying they were kidnapped. I am saying they were not kidnapped," he said. This group went to Okra Hills without the express permission of the Leader (Foday Sankoh), and the movement is very, very strict about respecting channels of communication. They got in touch with the Leader, and the Leader has instructed them to release them, to leave the question of deciding actions of that nature to him. If the channels of communication were bypassed, they should just report to him, and then he would inform them of what action to take. They should not take action on their own. And this is what has happened." Bangura acknowledged that the RUF found the incident embarrassing. "It shouldn’t have happened in the first place," he said. "But these things do happen if the other side do not respect channels of communication and are not cooperative...We are saying that first of all communication should precede any such moves, authorisation would be given, and when that is done there would be no such developments and nobody would be embarrassed." Bangura denied that the rebels were attempting to establish "no-go" areas in parts of the country under their control. "We are saying after the peace agreement everybody should cooperate in making sure everything goes smoothly," he said. "It doesn’t mean after the agreement people can just go off on their own."

The British government immediately despatched a negotiating team to Sierra Leone after learning that five of the kidnapped UNOMSIL members were British nationals, Foreign Office minister Peter Hain disclosed Wednesday night. "We take this incident very seriously and are acting with the utmost urgency. Five British soldiers are amongst those detained and we want them, and others, safely returned," Hain said. "Within hours of learning of the incident I authorised a team of Government advisers to go to Sierra Leone to back up the High Commission and provide advice to the Sierra Leone government. This team is already in the air. It includes FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office), MoD (Ministry of Defence) and police personnel. We are working with the UN and other organisations to take every step possible to secure the safe return of those detained."

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan "deplores this serious incident and urges the armed groups to release all detainees immediately and without any conditions," his spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said in New York on Thursday. Annan also called on RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, as well as ECOWAS and ECOMOG, to do their utmost to seek the release of all detained personnel and to ensure the safety and security of all international staff helping Sierra Leoneans to implement the Lomé peace agreement. Eckhard said it was too early to determine what impact the hostage crisis would have on the U.N.'s plans to send more military observers to Sierra Leone. "It appears to involve [rebel] soldiers that were not directly involved in the peace process, and it is a very specific set of demands that they are making, so our position at this point is: no conditions, release our people, and let’s get on with the peace process." He expressed the hope that the crisis could be resolved quickly and peacefully, and that it would have no impact on the implementation of the peace agreement.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has announced that it is scaling down its operations following the abductions. The WFP has suspended Friday's delivery of food for some 9,000 people in the area, and has put other deliveries planned for next week on hold.

The RUF has submitted a list of potential nominees to four cabinet posts allocated to the rebel movement under the Lomé Peace Accord, a "senior presidential aide" told Reuters on Thursday. He said that some of the nominees would arrive in Freetown for a weekend progress review, and that the arriving nominees would make final arrangements for the return to Freetown of RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, now expected around August 12 or 13. "The RUF has submitted its list of nominees for ministerial posts in the Sierra Leone government to the government," the aide said. "Parliament will of course have to ratify the nominations after the president has cleared them and appointed them to certain ministries." He added that ratification should be a formality. Included on the list are reportedly former AFRC Chairman Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma, currently considered to rank second in the RUF; AFRC Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Alimamy Pallo Bangura, Idrissa Kamara, RUF People's War Council Chairman Solomon Y.B. Rogers, RUF commanders Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie and Denis "Superman" Mingo, and RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley.

RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh has denied a claim made Wednesday by Rex Diamond Mining Corporation that the company had received assurances from the RUF that the Rex diamond mining leases in Sierra Leone were in good standing. "No one from the RUF has ever spoken to any Rex Diamond Official to reassure them of any such information as they issued yesterday," Sankoh said in a letter to the Sierra Leone Web. "It is important that every single mining lease ever granted in Sierra Leone be thoroughly examined by professionals. The RUF is not yet in a position to know if the Rex leases are tainted with illegality until the RUF gets a professional analysis of these leases. Finally, no member of the RUF has ever been given a copy of any such lease, so we may certainly not have reassured Rex Diamond Mining Company." Under the Lomé Peace Accord, Sankoh will chair the newly-created Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development, while is charged with regulating the exploitation of mineral resources in the country.

4 August: Some 30 persons are feared dead after a boat capsized Monday in a storm off the coast of the port of Pepel. About 15 people, including the crew, survived the accident. "Only the body of a five-month-old baby has been found. The search for the other bodies continues," a senior police officer at Pepel said.

The London-based human rights group Amnesty International (AI) called on the United Nations Security Council Wednesday to clarify its position regarding the Lomé Peace Accord's provision for a blanket amnesty for those who committed war crimes during Sierra Leone's eight-year long civil war. "The Security Council should explicitly acknowledge that the amnesty which applies to gross human rights abuses and grave breaches of international humanitarian law contradicts fundamental human rights standards and seriously undermines the obligations of the international community to bring to justice those who have breached international human rights and humanitarian law," AI said in a press release. The human rights organisation said that while the accord provides for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, "this will not guarantee the rights of victims and their families to justice and reparation since an amnesty for human rights abuses has already been granted." While U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan suggested Friday in his Seventh Report on the U.N. Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) that the Security Council take steps to ensure appropriate accountability for serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law, including the establishment of a commission of inquiry, AI said there was little indication that the Council would either discuss or endorse such a commission. "It appears that the Security Council may be better at acknowledging the importance of human rights in general rather than in a real situation where justice is desperately needed," Amnesty International said. Noting that the Secretary-General's report included recommendations for an increase in U.N. human rights monitors, meeting the needs of children affected by the conflict, including child combatants, and support for institutions to protect human rights, AI said: "We welcome these important commitments by the international community to human rights in Sierra Leone, but its obligations to end impunity and bring to justice those responsible for gross human rights abuses, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, are not being met."

Detailed discussions are due to begin in New York on Thursday over the future scope of the peacekeeping operation in Sierra Leone, and on the respective roles of the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) and the ECOMOG force. Meanwhile, current Security Council President Ambassador Martin Andjaba said the U.N. wanted to deploy military observers immediately. "We hope as soon as possible," he said. "I cannot give any time frame but the intention is to deploy immediately so as to avoid a vacuum." 

Rex Diamond Mining Corporation announced Wednesday that the company had received reassurances "by both Government and RUF officials as to the strong and lasting friendship of REX in Sierra Leone." The statement appeared in a press release which addressed recent volatility and a decline in value of the company's common stock. Citing a provision of the Lomé Peace Accord which provides that any diamond or gold mining concession or lease found to have been obtained by fraud or "tainted with illegality" be declared null and void, the company said: "We have again received confirmation from all parties, Government and RUF, that the REX leases are in good standing."

Britain is planning to name a special envoy to Sierra Leone, Paul Harvey, who helped to facilitate the peace talks in Lomé, Togo, the British High Commission in Freetown said on Wednesday. In a press release, the High Commission said Britain also planned to double the number of military observers it has in Sierra Leone serving with the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL). The High Commission statement said Britain would continue to take part in training and supplying Sierra Leone's new army, and help the country to rebuild its police force. Britain will also help the Sierra Leone government to improve its broadcasting facilities and to fight corruption, the communiqué said.

About 420 Nigerians affected by the war have left Sierra Leone, the Nigerian High Commission told the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) on Wednesday. "The initial projection was 750, but we think that some people changed their minds after the signing of the peace treaty," a High Commission source said. He added that many of those who left had lost property and businesses. The Nigerians left Freetown Tuesday by ship.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will send a surgical team to Kenema to determine and address urgent surgical needs there, ICRC Dissemination Delegate Paul Fruh told the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) on Wednesday. He said discussions were underway between the ICRC and the government on establishing a surgical centre at an existing health clinic in Goderich. Eventually, it was hoped that the centre would become a teaching facility, he added. Referring to the ongoing census of war amputees, Fruh said: "Once the results of the census are known, the ICRC will address the priority issue of assessing numbers of people who need emergency surgery to clean up wounds before artificial limbs can be fitted..."As well as knowing the numbers affected, we also have to prepare people psychologically for the fitting of limbs, particularly in the case of children. For them it is a continuous process as limbs have to be replaced every year."

3 August: The international community needs "to undertake swift and massive intervention" in Sierra Leone to avoid a humanitarian disaster, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Sierra Leone, Kingsley Amaning said in Geneva on Tuesday. Amaning noted that despite the peace agreement reached between the government and the RUF last month, hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leoneans remain displaced following more than eight years of civil conflict. Two U.N. assessment missions which recently finished a survey of the situation in parts of Sierra Leone found that in some areas up to 30 percent of the population was malnourished, he said. Amaning said food distribution was made difficult by the poor state of Sierra Leone's infrastructure. Food convoys also risk being attacked by bands of hungry rebels who refuse to allow the trucks to pass without giving them food, he added. Amaning also pointed out that the population had little or no access to basic health care. "All the clinics and health structures in these areas (surveyed) have broken down and require a massive and swift intervention in order to make them functional again," he said. Amaning said there were still obstacles to be overcome in providing humanitarian assistance. The government and the rebels were not yet working together effectively with aid organisations, he said, while armed groups still needed to be disarmed and demobilised to provide greater stability in the country. "We need to have in a very short time a peacekeeping force and military observers in those areas held by various armed groups so that disarmament and demobilisation can take place and so that whatever effort we are making to arrest the humanitarian disaster will be effective and well-founded," he said. "We are making slow progress. The problems are many and we discover new ones as we go along."

Sierra Leone's United Nations charge d' affaires, Foday Dabor, said Monday he was concerned that stalling by the RUF in submitting its list of cabinet nominees could jeopardise implementation of the peace accord signed between the government and the rebels in July. Dabor said the RUF's statement that they would submit their nominees for cabinet posts only after the government had announced which ministries the rebels would be allocated was not in accordance with the peace agreement. Dabor maintained that it was wrong for the RUF to insist on prior knowledge of the ministries to be assigned to them, because under the constitution President Kabbah has the prerogative to assign portfolios as he wishes. ''The RUF have to stop foot-dragging so that we can end the suffering of the people,'' Dabor said. Under the terms of the Lomé Peace Accord, a two-week period of "discussion and agreement" on the appointment of RUF members "to positions of parastatal, diplomacy and any other public sector" was to have begun on July 29.

2 August: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on the Security Council Monday to increase the authorised strength of the United Nations Military Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) from 70 to 210, along with additional political, civil affairs and human rights staff. Currently, there are about 50 U.N. observers actually posted in the country. Annan said implementation of the peace accord signed between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF on July 7 "will require the presence of a substantial number of peacekeepers throughout the country, together with the deployment of additional United Nations military observers, in mutually supporting roles." Detailed talks are to begin Thursday on the size of the peacekeeping operation and the respective roles of UNOMSIL and the ECOMOG force. Annan asked for the increase in authorised strength "in order to offer maximum support to the parties and ECOMOG, and maintain momentum in the peace process." He said the additional observers would expand contacts with rebel troops in the countryside, extend cease-fire monitoring, and monitor the disarmament and demobilisation of combatants. Annan noted that the Lomé Accord's blanket amnesty provision for war crimes was "difficult to reconcile with the goal of ending the culture of impunity," and stressed it was essential to collect testimonies of human rights abuses and to bring forward witnesses and survivors of atrocities in support of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission envisioned under the peace accord. "Such a commission would investigate and assess human rights and humanitarian law violations and abuses perpetrated by all parties since the commencement of the conflict in 1991," he said.

Mohamed Allieu Jalloh, the Ministry of Health's donor liaison officer, gave details on Monday of an amputee census being carried out by the ministry, in cooperation with humanitarian agencies. Jalloh said that while there were as yet no proper figures on the number of refugees, ministry estimates ranged from 8,000 to 10,000 nationwide. "We have started the exercise in the Western Area, and as we go along into the provinces — the accessible areas — we do the head count," he told the BBC. "It’s quite true that it’s a mammoth responsibility we want to undertake. But we’ll be using the health personnel. We have health personnel right down the smallest village, health post. We’ll use the local authorities well. We have chiefs to the smallest village. These will all help us in the census." Jalloh said the census questionnaire would be very detailed. "In fact we want to know whether it’s an upper or lower limb, whether it is single or double, upper or lower. And up to who is taking care of them now and what were their occupation and what occupation they might be interested in," he said. Jalloh said the information gathered would be used to provide prosthetics for the victims, and to provide them with skills training and medical assistance. "The ICRC, we have given them a very big hospital; They are expanding it at Goderich in the Western Area for all surgical cases," he said. "I’m pretty sure that by the end of the day these people will be able to lead a useful life." Jalloh acknowledged that the results of the census were likely to be grim. "There’s no doubt about that," he said "If you get to the amputee centre, it’s very difficult for you to hold back your tears, because you see babies amputated. You see adults who had a large family they’ve been taking care of. They have both limbs chopped off. It’s going to be a very difficult thing, and for this we need quite a lot of assistance. We are also involved in detraumatising them, because it takes a whole lot of courage and talking to for these people to accept that, oh, they don’t have legs again, they’ve lost their both hands or they’ve lost one. It is quite a difficult situation."

Mali has withdrawn some of its troops from the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone, the Malian consul in Freetown confirmed on Monday. He said 150 soldiers left Lungi International Airport aboard a Hercules aircraft on Sunday. "The withdrawal of the first batch of 150 Malian soldiers was due to the fact that the Malian government now believes peace has returned to Sierra Leone," the consul said. "The number of Malian troops should be cut down to reduce the financial cost and also to reduce the pressure the (Malian) government is facing from the opposition to pull out." A Sierra Leonean Ministry of Defence spokesman said Mali's decision to recall its troops had come "as a big surprise, " but added: "The government and people of Sierra Leone still appreciate what they have done for us."

Trustees of the Princess Diana Memorial Fund announced on Monday a grant of $143,000 to the charity Christian Aid, to benefit war victims in Sierra Leone.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), in an Emergency Report issued on Monday and covering the period through July 27, reported that an inter-agency mission consisting of the WFP, other U.N. agencies, and non-governmental organisations conducted a mission to Makeni on July 21-22. The mission met with rebel leaders to discuss access to the Makeni area by humanitarian groups. A reconnaissance ground team went in first on July 21 to assess whether there was sufficient security for the WFP helicopter to bring in the rest of the team, which then arrived on July 22. WFP needs-assessment missions were scheduled for Makeni, Lunsar and the surrounding areas for July 29-30. WFP distribution partner Action Contre la Faim (ACF) conducted a food security assessment in the Makeni area, the report said. According to preliminary results, urgent food interventions are needed. The WFP led an inter-agency needs assessment and registration of persons in need of food aid, primarily of internally displaced persons (IDPs), in Gorama Mende, Faala Wandor, Simbaru and Kandu Leppiama Chiefdoms in the Kenema District, during the period covered in the report. Food distributions were scheduled to begin in the area later in the week. Some 850 tons of assorted WFP food commodities were also being moved from Freetown to Kenema for ongoing food distributions and pre-positioning for possible interventions in Daru, Segbwema and the Pujehun area, the WFP report said.

1 August: The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has begun a census of amputees in Sierra Leone, state radio reported on Sunday. "The ICRC is currently (conducting an) amputee census throughout Sierra Leone to enable the organisation and the government to know how many amputees are in the country that will have to undergo corrective surgical treatment," the radio said. Rebel fighters have been accused of mutilating thousands of civilians during the course of Sierra Leone's eight-year civil war, but no official figure has been established because government officials and aid organisations have until now been prevented from surveying large areas of the country under rebel control. "A surgical team from Europe is expected in Freetown shortly to assist the amputee health clinic at Goderich in the West End of Freetown, with a view to converting it to a surgical hospital," ICRC delegation head Claudio Balatino was quoted as saying.

RUF spokesman and legal representative Omrie Golley (pictured left) expressed the rebel group's dissatisfaction Sunday with the Sierra Leone government's appointment of an executive director to run the affairs of the new Commission of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development. Under the terms of the Lomé Peace Accord, the Commission would be headed by RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, who would be accorded the protocol equivalent of a vice president. In an interview Sunday with BBC Lomé correspondent Ebow Godwin, Golley complained that the post of executive director was not discussed nor was it provided for in the agreement. "The creation of the post of an executive director virtually cuts off the legs of the post of the chairman of the Commission, and reduces the position Corporal Foday Sankoh to that of a sinecure," Golley was quoted as saying. The RUF spokesman also accused the Kabbah government of acting in bad faith regarding the allocation of ministerial posts due the rebels. The Lomé agreement allocates four ministerial portfolios to the RUF, one of them to be senior — defined in Article V as either the Ministry of Finance, Justice, or Foreign Affairs. "Omrie Golley told me that up till now that Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has not been able to reveal to the RUF the senior cabinet ministry positions due to them," Godwin said. "Instead of complying with the provisions of the agreement, Mr. Golley said the Kabbah administration had asked the RUF to submit a list of 20 nominees, without indicating which ministerial appointments they were entitled to."  Godwin added that despite the complaints, the RUF leadership was expected to leave Lomé for Freetown during the coming week.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed Sunday for a Kosovo-style aid effort for Africa in order to help bring peace to countries on the continent. Annan said a fragile peace had been achieved in Sierra Leone, while efforts were underway to resolve the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. "Many individual Africans are not waiting for their leaders but acting on their own initiative to confront and solve their problems," Annan said. "If such people get the international support that the people of Kosovo are now getting, Africa would have a real chance to turn the corner...The boy soldiers can be demobilized and their weapons confiscated, and they can be turned into useful members of society — but only if they have schools to go to and jobs to do." He said that without such timely assistance, countries like Sierra Leone could quickly fall back into the cycle of violence. "Never has Africa been in more need of political and financial help. But never, perhaps, has it been better placed to benefit from them," Annan said. "The right kind of aid now, carefully directed to those best able to use it, could pay off 1,000-fold." The United Nations has estimated that $35 million is needed immediately to help to demobilise and disarm combatants in Sierra Leone's more than eight-year long civil war. A donors' conference held for Sierra Leone in London on Wednesday saw a commitment by Britain to donate an additional $7.1 million to help train Sierra Leone's new military force. A similar conference held for Kosovo in Brussels on Tuesday received commitments by the international community for $2.1 billion.