The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

September 2001
 

29 September: Following Liberian President Charles Taylor's announcement Friday that he had ordered the reopening of the border with Sierra Leone, Liberian troops have removed roadblocks at the Mano River Bridge. However, BBC Monrovia correspondent reported, the bridge remains closed from the Sierra Leonean side. Eddie Massallay, the local Kamajor coordinator, told Paye-Layleh that he had not received instructions from Freetown to reopen the border. "The reason is very simple, is that, we respect the saying of his excellency President Charles Taylor," Massallay said. "But what is happening here is the communication system between President Taylor and President Kabbah should go down so that we can receive communications, because we work directly with the Ministry of Defence." Taylor ordered the border closed in late March, citing unspecified security problems. A day later, President Kabbah reportedly responded by ordering security forces to close the border from the Sierra Leonean side. Paye-Layleh said that a large number of persons had gathered at the bridge after hearing Taylor's announcement, hoping to be reunited with their relatives on the other side of the border. "They have, up to the time I was there, not been able to cross," he said.

The Mano River Union's Joint Security Committee, which ended a three-day meeting in Monrovia on Friday, agreed on a "legal approach to address the treatment of dissidents, and to remove the legal impediment in the actualization of the goals of the union," Safety and Security Charles Margai said, reading from the final communiqué. Ministers from the three Mano River Union states of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia also agreed to "the deployment of joint border security and confidence-building units to involve the peoples in their common security, and to discourage the proliferation of arms and ammunition," Margai said. The ministers also recommended modalities for the repatriation of refugees, the frequent exchange of visits, and "the effective education of the peoples of the sub-region for the promotion of the culture of peace." According to the Voice of America, the Committee will meet in Conakry in two weeks' time to draw up a timetable for the expulsion of dissidents believed to be operating in the three countries.

28 September: Liberian President Charles Taylor said Friday he would reopen his country's borders with Sierra Leone and Guinea, the Reuters news agency reported. The Liberian government ordered the border with Sierra Leone closed last March 19, citing unspecified "security problems." The three countries have accused one another of supporting dissident movements on each others' territory. On March 20, Sierra Leone responded by ordering the border closed from its side. "Liberia will announce the opening of the borders today," Taylor told reporters at the Executive Mansion after meeting with the Mano River Union's Joint Security Committee, comprised of justice, defence and security ministers from the three countries. "We must do everything to bring peace to this region," he added. Earlier this year, Guinean President Lansana Conte vowed never to negotiate with Taylor. But on Friday, Taylor claimed he enjoyed good relations with the two neighbouring leaders. "I consider President Lansana Conte as my big brother and President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah as my good friend," he said. The Liberian leader also announced a lifting of restrictions on foreign diplomats, which prevented them from travelling more than 35 kilometres from Roberts International Airport. "They can move anywhere, everywhere, anytime without any hindrance," he said.

Next months' Commonwealth Summit in Brisbane, Australia has become the latest event on President Kabbah's itinerary to be postponed due to the growing crisis following terrorist attacks in the United States. Earlier, the United Nations Special Session on Children and the U.S.-Africa Business Summit were also cancelled. "(The decision to postpone the summit was made) very much on the basis that a number of key leaders in Africa, in the Caribbean, in the Pacific and European area just weren’t able to see themselves free be away from their own countries," Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon (pictured right) told the BBC. "There are times when a leader just cannot afford and wouldn’t wish to be seen outside of his or her own country," he added.

269 pro-government CDF combatants had disarmed in Bo District as of Thursday, compared to only nine RUF combatants in the rebel-held Bombali District, UNAMSIL military spokesman Major Mohammed Yerima said on Friday.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2200 / 2300. [£] 2789 / 3208. Commercial Bank: [$] N.A. / N.A.. [£] N.A. / N.A.. Frandia: [$] 2200 / 2300 [£] 2950 / 3150. Continental: [$] 2220 / 2350 [£] 3000 / 3300. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2300 / 2350 [£] 3100 / 3150.

27 September: Disarmament in Bombali District, which was to have begun on Monday, is at a "standstill," with RUF combatants refusing to hand in their arms over a variety of complaints, UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki (pictured right) told the Associated Press on Thursday. Novicki said RUF commanders met with Nigerian peacekeepers in Makeni on Wednesday, and complained that the government had not yet allowed them to register as a political party. She said the rebels had also expressed "concern over the deployment of Sierra Leone Army personnel in areas where the RUF claim they have disarmed." 

The Sierra Leone government has rejected allegations it was behind anonymous death threats mailed to seven Freetown journalists this month, and has called for an investigation into the matter. The identical letters, all postmarked on September 14, reportedly claimed the journalists had been declared "enemies of the state" and were "marked to die before the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections" scheduled for next May. A statement circulated by the journalists and published in several local newspapers, suggested that the letters were part of a government effort to silence the opposition press — a charge denied in a government statement issued on Thursday. "Government maintains the position that the allegations made are serious enough to warrant an investigation," the statement said. "Government is, therefore, appealing to the organization "Journalists Without Borders" to work with the local law enforcement agencies, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists and the Independent Media Commission to investigate the credibility of the allegations contained in the publications cited earlier. Government will abide by the findings and recommendations of that investigative body."

An advance party of Nepali peacekeepers is due to arrive in Sierra Leone during the second half of October, with the rest of the 800-strong battalion, along with their equipment, is expected in November, UNAMSIL said on Thursday. The Nepali battalion will finally bring UNAMSIL up to its U.N.-authorised strength of 17,500 troops, including 260 military observers.

26 September: Ministers from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea began three days of talks Wednesday in the Liberian capital Monrovia aimed at easing tensions along their countries' common borders. The Mano River Union's Joint Security Committee, comprised of the defence, justice and security ministers from the three countries, will also discuss the repatriation of refugees, the Associated Press reported. "Solutions are not too hard to find when the will is there, and the determination is there," said Sierra Leone's Safety and Security Minister, Charles Margai (pictured left). "Our people will get fed up with us if we keep meeting without results." Last month, at a meeting in Conakry, the ministers recommended that members of armed rebel groups be apprehended and repatriated to their countries of origin, and that the three states would deploy joint security in the border region.

The National Electoral Commission has issued a provisional certificate of registration to Sierra Leone's 22nd political party, Citizens United for Peace and Progress, or CUPP. The new party is headed by Raymond Bamidele Thompson, a Washington, D.C.-area attorney and former leader of the U.S. branch of the United National People's Party's progressive wing.

 A 800-strong battalion of Nepali Gurkha soldiers will join the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone next month, Defence Secretary Padam Kumar Acharya told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday. "The Nepali soldiers will be sent in three batches and the first members will leave in the first week of October," Acharya was quoted as saying. Meanwhile, King Gyanendra met with the Sierra Leone-bound soldiers Wednesday at a training camp outside of Kathmandu, where he called on them to fulfil their mission honestly, Reuters said.

A delegation from the African Union (formerly the OAU) is in Sierra Leone this week to assess the country's infrastructural needs following a decade of civil war, UNAMSIL said in a statement. The group, comprised of representatives from Nigeria, Libya and South Africa, met with government and U.N. officials. Senator Amadu Ali of Nigeria, who led the delegation, said the three countries had pledged at an earlier summit to assist Sierra Leone to rebuild its damaged infrastructure, and the the mission was in the country to identify areas which needed assistance. Ali said material and logistical assistance was expected from South Africa, and that other countries had also pledged to help.

A high-ranking RUF official who sought refuge with United Nations peacekeepers last month after allegedly killing another rebel commander has been turned over to the RUF, UNAMSIL military spokesman Major Mohammed Yerima said on Tuesday. Brigadier Morris Kallon, who is said to have been a major backer of interim RUF leader General Issa Sesay, reportedly killed a Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher whom he caught looting property in Makeni. "After the shooting incident in Makeni, Morris Kallon came to UNAMSIL to seek refuge," Yerima told reporters. "Later on, the RUF wrote to UNAMSIL requesting his release to their organisation. We then released him to the RUF High Command." 

25 September: The failure of RUF combatants to show up at disarmament centers Monday, on the first day of disarmament in Bombali and Bo Districts, was because of the rebel group's unhappiness at the venue — the St. Francis Secondary School compound in Makeni — and to protest what they said was a failure by pro-government forces to fully disarm in Kambia and Port Loko Districts. Only three rebel combatants showed up at Batkanu, and these consisted of "a pregnant woman, one suckling mother, and a Col. Milton [Katta], who claims to be the advisor of the RUF in that area," BBC correspondent Sylvester Rogers reported. Three more RUF combatants and two members of the CDF disarmed at Makeni. "They have already said that they want RUF combatants to be demobilised in a school compound, which we have refused. This is a school season. The children have to go to school," RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi told the BBC. He added that hundreds of armed CDF members remained in areas where disarmament had already taken place with "shotguns which they may probably use to intimidate the opposition." The RUF spokesman also accused the government of failing to honour its commitments and, in a separate interview with Reuters, suggested that the rebels might not be slow to disarm as a result. "We won't disrupt the peace process, but there will be a stalemate until those issues are addressed," he said. UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki told the Sierra Leone Web that the RUF had presented "a whole laundry list of excuses" for failing to disarm. "Everything that had already been sorted out at the Makeni Tripartite meeting," she said. According to Rogers, the RUF combatants at Batkanu handed over a total of two RPG bombs, one RPG tube, one AK-47 rifle, a self-loading machine gun and 318 bullets to U.N. peacekeepers. Earlier Tuesday, an RUF source suggested that the rebel group's disappointing response in Bombali District might be linked to frustration over a reported attack on two RUF commanders at Koidu on Saturday. One commander was reported killed and another hospitalised, he said. UNAMSIL, however, has said the incident involved a dispute over mining rights in the diamond-rich town. "There was a fracas over the weekend at Koidu, with two ex-combatants getting into a fight over diamond mining territory, then crowds gathering, stone throwing and before you know it (there was) a crowd of 5,000," Novicki said, adding: "Our Pakistani battalion had to separate the sides." 

Disarmament also got off to a a slow start in Bo District, with just 64 CDF combatants showing up at Monghere, UNAMSIL reported on Tuesday. According to BBC Bo correspondent Richard Margao, the U.N. had expected 150 Kamajors to disarm each day during the next month. Margao said many CDF members were refusing to give up their guns until RUF combatants in the adjoining Tonkolili District were fully disarmed, because "the RUF would easily wage a war against them if they were the first to surrender their weapons." Under an agreement reached in July between the government and the RUF, Tonkolili is to be paired with Pujehun District following disarmament in Bo and Bombali Districts. But Margao said UNAMSIL had agreed to deploy "in the no-man's land between the two districts" so that the disarmament process could continue. "During yesterday’s low-scale disarmament, several AK-47 rifles and rocket-propelled grenades were handed over by the Kamajors, who were then taken to the demobilisation centre at Gondama, seven miles from Bo," Margao said. "They were given Le 300,000 each, and non-food items like mattresses."

UNAMSIL announced the opening of a human rights office Tuesday in the RUF headquarters town of Makeni. The office, according to the U.N. statement, will be responsible for monitoring violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in the Northern Province. It will also run sensitisation programmes on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Special Court, and will organise regular human rights training sessions for civil society groups and others in the region. The establishment of the office followed a visit to Makeni and Magburaka last week by a team of U.N. human rights officers. Patrice Vahard (pictured left), the UNAMSIL Human Rights Field Coordinator and leader of the delegation, was quoted as saying that the setting up of the office in Makeni was in line with the U.N.'s commitment to achieving integrated deployment of military and non-military components throughout the country.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has expressed grave concern for the safety of seven Sierra Leonean journalists, all of whom received identical death threats early last week. The letters, postmarked on September 14 and signed only "Danger Squad," named all seven journalists. "All must die before elections, all these journalists are enemies of the state," they said. "This is an extremely worrying development, and we urge Sierra Leonean authorities to investigate this matter immediately," said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper in a statement issued late Tuesday. "Similar threats preceded the murders of some ten journalists by rebel forces in January 1999. Authorities should take preventive measures now to protect our colleagues."

24 September: Disarmament got off to a slow start in Bombali District on Monday, when just three rebel combatants showed up to turn in their arms at Batkanu, and none in Makeni, the headquarters of the RUF, Associated Press correspondent Clarence Roy-Macaulay reported. But recently-freed RUF spokesman Eldred Collins insisted there was "no problem," adding: "We are committed to the disarmament process." He said rebel combatants in Makeni were unhappy with the choice of location for their disarmament — the St. Francis Secondary School compound — and that they wanted security guarantees for their supporters. In Bo District, a stronghold of the pro-government CDF, 64 combatants are reported to have given up their guns on the first day of disarmament.

22 September: Connecticut local and state officials were due to join President Kabbah at the Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven Saturday to dedicate a headstone in memory of six Sierra Leonean captives of the slave ship Amistad who died in 1839. The six were among 50 Africans who were kidnapped from Sierra Leone and taken to Cuba to be sold into slavery. Under the leadership of Sengbeh Pieh, the captives seized the ship La Amistad and ordered the Spanish kidnappers to return them to Africa. Instead, the crew sailed to the United States, where the ship was taken into custody in Long Island Sound, setting the stage for a two-year legal battle which eventually freed the Sierra Leoneans. The Amistad Committee searched for years for the burial grounds of the six captives, and while there is no concrete evidence that they were buried there, it was considered to be the most likely choice. President Kabbah will also bestow the Order of the Rokel on Amistad Committee founder Alfred L. Marder (pictured left), in what is said to be the first time the award ceremony has been performed outside the borders of Sierra Leone.

Seven Sierra Leonean journalists have expressed concern after receiving anonymous death threats earlier this week. In a statement released on Saturday, the journalists said they received individual letters on Monday which threatened them with death before next year's presidential and parliamentary elections. The seven include Jonathan Leigh of the Independent Observer, Paul Kamara of For di People, C-Met director David Tam-Baryoh, Chernor Ojuku Sesay of the Pool, Philip Neville of the Standard Times, Richie Olu Gordon of Peep! Magazine and Pios Foray of the Democrat. "We continue to appeal to law enforcement agencies and the International community to be very mindful of the record of violence often perpetrated by governments and political elements, much so at these dangerous elections times when most arms are still in the possessions of those interested in political power," the statement said. "In the light of the above, and incumbent on us to continue performing our role as watchdog of the society, we remain ever resolved to practice our profession as dictated by conscience and the ethics of sound journalism."

21 September: The International Monetary Fund has approved a three-year $169 million loan to Sierra Leone to help the country recover from a decade of conflict, the agency announced late Thursday. According to the Reuters news agency, the IMF approval is contingent on the World Bank also approving the loan. A decision by the World Bank is expected on Tuesday. The loan will be used to support a poverty-reduction strategy for Sierra Leone which was designed with the support of the two agencies. The programme aims to increase economic growth to rates of six to seven percent annually. Last year, the Sierra Leone economy grew at a rate of 3.8 percent, compared to an 8.1 percent contraction in 1999. Inflation has also improved, with a 2.7 percent declined in prices in 2000 compared to a nearly 37 percent increase the year before. Sierra Leone will strive to reach five percent growth in 2001 and six percent growth in 2002, while limiting inflation to eight percent in the first year and five percent in the second.

"We in Sierra Leone have learned from experience that there should always be room for dialogue," President Kabbah said in an address Friday at Southern Connecticut State University in the United States. The Sierra Leone conflict, Kabbah said, was not a civil war, or a war of religion or ethnicity, or a class war, but a war by "our own kith and kin...(who were) used as pliant tools to exploit the legitimate grievances within the state."  "They waged a brutal war against the people of Sierra Leone, including innocent children," Kabbah said. "Yes we did not regard them as enemies in the traditional sense." Kabbah, who spoke at a convocation called to award him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, said that throughout the decade-long conflict his government had always been open to dialogue with the rebels. "We were guided by the belief that conflict resolution is often a long and complex process, and that until one can resolve it, one should at least try to manage or contain it," he said. "We had always offered such initiatives to the other side as a means of ensuring the unimpeded access to, and delivery of humanitarian assistance to innocent victims in areas of rebel concentration." Kabbah also stressed the importance of political tolerance as a tool of conflict resolution. "Experience has taught us in Sierra Leone, and I believe in other parts of the world, that the opposite of political tolerance is not always the best prescription for peace and stability," he said, adding that tolerance was necessary to promote national consensus, especially in times of crisis. "Consensus does not rule out dissent," he said. "It removes the barriers that impede the search for peace and security for victims of violence. In short, it promotes understanding within states, and among peoples."

Representatives of the RUF, the CDF and UNAMSIL held sensitisation meetings Thursday in the northern towns of Kabala and Alikalia to urge combatants to stop ceasefire violations and to hand in their weapons, UNAMSIL said in a statement. The decision to hold the meetings was made during Tuesday's tripartite talks, where it was noted that recent clashes had slowed the disarmament process. Meanwhile, a joint team from UNAMSIL and the National Committee on Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration has held sensitisation meetings in Makeni ahead of the start of disarmament in Bombali District, which begins on Monday.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] N.A. / N.A. [£] N.A. / N.A. Commercial Bank: [$] 1850 / 2050. [£] 2590 / 2870. Frandia: [$] 2200 / 2300 [£] 2950 / 3150. Continental: [$] 2220 / 2320 [£] 3000 / 3200. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2225 / 2320 [£] 3050 / 3200.

19 September: Government and RUF delegations reviewed a number of political issues when they met in Makeni Tuesday for tripartite talks on the implementation of the disarmament process. According to a UNAMSIL statement, the two sides discussed the transformation of the RUF into a political party, the question of a consultative conference, the extension of government authority, and freedom of movement for persons and goods throughout the country. The government informed the RUF that it had identified a building to serve as the RUF's political party headquarters in Freetown, thus removing a major obstacle to registering the RUF as a party. The government delegation also said that the National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights and the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace were holding consultations on organising a national dialogue on the way forward in the political process. After a discussion of the low turnout of combatants for disarmament in Koinadugu District, the parties agreed to extend disarmament in the district by two weeks. A joint re-sensitisation of combatants will be carried out in the district on Thursday by RUF, CDF and UNAMSIL officials and, according to the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR), UNAMSIL will be asked to disarm combatants in their respective locations. This would eliminate the problem of combatants having to travel long distances to designated disarmament sites, the NCDDR said in a statement. The meeting also endorsed the NCDDR's policy that no single and double-barrel shotguns and locally-made hunting rifles be accepted in the programme. The two sides agreed that a separate community effort would be instituted to collect such weapons. The meeting declared disarmament in Bo and Bonthe Districts closed as of September 18. Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa led a government delegation which included Safety and Security Minister Charles Margai, National Security Advisor Kellie Conteh, Chief of Defence Staff Brig. Tom Carew, Col. Tom Dumbuya of the CDF and Dr. Mustapha Kella of the NCDDR.  Former Minister of Trade and Industry Mike Lamin, who was released from detention earlier this month, led an RUF delegation which included spokesman Gibril Massaquoi, Chief of Administration Jonathan Kposowa, former spokesman Eldred Collins, Chief of Security Col. Augustine Gbao, and two members of the Political and Peace Council: Andrew Kanu and Agnes Manie. The two sides agreed to meet again on October 11 in Freetown. 

The National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR) announced Wednesday that it would soon begin paying one-time reinsertion benefits of Le 300,000 to ex-combatants. To be eligible for the benefit, the combatant must have been disarmed, demobilised and discharged in the programme's current Phase III after last May 18, or have completed the programme before that time but received no or only partial payment. Others who received full payment during Phases I and II, along with ex-combatants who have joined the military or security forces and former child combatants, were deemed ineligible for the benefits.

17,153 combatants had been disarmed as of September 17, according to figures released on Wednesday by the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR). The number included 6,504 RUF, 10,335 CDF, 254 AFRC/ex-SLA and 60 others. 5,502 RUF combatants had been demobilised and 5,074 discharged, while 9,029 CDF were demobilised and 9,174 discharged, according to the NCDDR statement.

The All Political Parties Association (APPA) issued a statement Wednesday calling for the dissolution of the current National Electoral Commission, suggesting that it be reconstituted in the interest of fair play, transparency, and the need for credible elections, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported. APPA also expressed dissatisfaction with the "district block" electoral system, and stated its preference for a system of multiple constituencies. "According to the National Electoral Commission, constituency elections are not feasible now because a proper census and voter registration for such an exercise could take up to three years before completion," Fofana said. "And there is also the fear that the entire country may not have been completely secure in time for this electoral system."

18 September: Representatives of the Sierra Leone government, the RUF and UNAMSIL met in Makeni Tuesday to review progress toward disarmament in the country. The meeting of the Joint Committee on Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration had originally been scheduled to take place earlier this month, but was boycotted by the RUF to protest the government's decision to postpone presidential and parliamentary elections until next May. Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa (pictured right), who headed the government delegation, called the meeting "fruitful and cordial," according to the Associated Press. Former RUF spokesman Eldred Collins (left), who was released from detention earlier this month, agreed. "The meeting was very successful because we are all craving peace in this country," he told the AP. "Everything is going according to plan and disarmament is going to continue." While the focus of the monthly tripartite meetings is on disarmament issues, the two sides regularly discuss other issues of concern as well. Meanwhile, disarmament is due to begin in Bombali and Bo Districts on Monday.

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to extend UNAMSIL's mandate by an additional six months, through the end of March 2002. The Security Council resolution welcomed progress by the Sierra Leone government and the RUF in implementing last year's Abuja Ceasefire Agreement. It called on the RUF, however, to speed up efforts and fulfil its commitment to allow U.N. peacekeepers to deploy throughout the country and, with a view to restoring government authority, to ensure the free movement of persons, goods and humanitarian assistance. The Council encouraged the government and the RUF "to continue to take steps towards furthering of dialogue and national reconciliation," including the reintegration of the rebel movement into Sierra Leonean society and the transformation of the RUF into a political party. The Security Council stressed the importance of the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme to Sierra Leone's long-term stability, and it noted with concern the serious financial shortfall in the multi-donor Trust Fund which supports the DDR process. The Security Council stressed the importance of "free, fair, transparent and inclusive elections" for the Sierra Leone's long-term stability, and it called on UNAMSIL to assist with the elections as well as "to accelerate and coordinate efforts to restore civil authority and basic public services throughout the country."

15 former child combatants were reunited with their families Friday in an emotional ceremony held in the northern town of Kabala, UNAMSIL said in a statement. A total of 76 children whose families had been traced to Koinadugu District were flown to Kabala in U.N. helicopters. Most of the children were demobilised last year, and had been under the care of CARITAS-Makeni, where they received formal and non-formal education, counseling and other services. The children were relocated to Lungi and Port Loko after RUF rebels resumed fighting in May 2000. More children are expected to be reunited with their parents in coming days as families arrive from various chiefdoms in the district to identify their children, UNAMSIL Child Protection Advisor Bituin Gonzales was quoted as saying. Some of the children met their families for the first time in more than five years.

17 September: Two senior RUF officials freed from prison this month will join the RUF delegation to reconvened tripartite talks with the government and UNAMSIL, Political and Peace Council chairman Omrie Golley told the Sierra Leone Web on Monday. Former Trade and Industry Minister Mike Lamin and former RUF spokesman Eldred Collins were detained in May 2000 following the collapse of the peace process. Golley said the meeting of the Joint Committee on Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration, which was boycotted by the RUF earlier this month, would likely take place on Tuesday in Makeni.

A Sierra Leonean lecturer in the Philippines escaped kidnappers Sunday by jumping from their van, hiding in the darkness, and then swimming to safety, news services reported. Dr. Percival Showers, an oceanographer at Mindanao State University on the island of Tawi Tawi, was abducted Sunday night by four young men, believed to be members of the Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim separatist group known for kidnapping for ransom. Showers told investigators he jumped from the kidnappers' van as they were about to cross a bridge. He showed up at an army brigade camp at 6:00 Monday morning. "He was able to jump out of the jeep. He was fired at by the gunmen. He was able to run toward a river and hid in the bushes until the following morning," said Colonel Francisco Gudani, deputy commander of the Philippine military's Southern Command.

Lebanese leaders in southern Sierra Leone have rejected suggestions that some members of their community voiced support for last week's terrorist attacks in the United States, BBC Bo correspondent Richard Margo reported on Monday. "Members of the Kenema Executive of the Kenema Lebanese Committee moved to Bo today to hold a meeting with their counterparts to express dissatisfaction over that report," Margao said. "They are saying that even they themselves, they have their relatives in America, because during the war some of their relatives moved to America and Russia to do business. So on hearing such an incident from America, they could be worried." Margao said Lebanese businessmen in Bo had joined others in closing their shops after receiving news of the attacks, and he stressed that he himself had seen no evidence to support the allegations. "From Tuesday up to this moment I’m talking to you I have never witnessed a thing like that, I mean, the Lebanese were jubilating," he said. "And up to now, you visited any of their business centers, you find them in total grief. They are worried."

15 September: President Kabbah has reversed a decision to cancel his visit to the United States, and is now planning to attend the dedication of a memorial for six Sierra Leonean captives from the slave ship Amistad who died in Connecticut more than a century ago, a diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web on Saturday. Kabbah will also bestow the Order of the Rokel of the Republic of Sierra Leone on Amistad Committee founder Alfred L. Marder, and will himself receive an honourary Doctor of Laws degree from the Southern Connecticut State University. Earlier, a decision had been made to cancel the U.S. trip after terrorist attacks in New York and Washington this week forced the postponement of two key events on the president's schedule: the United Nations Special Session on Children and the U.S.-Africa Business Summit. 

More than 300 Zambian peacekeepers deployed Friday at Tongo, in Sierra Leone's eastern Kenema District, with the rest of the battalion due to deploy within a week, UNAMSIL said on Saturday. UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande urged the RUF to facilitate the work of the peacekeepers, and assured local residents that aid agencies would being relief assistance as soon as the combatants handed in their weapons. RUF 5th Brigade commander Colonel Sama Banya pledged that his men would give the U.N. troops their full cooperation, the UNAMSIL statement said.

The RUF's decision to resume participation in tripartite talks with the Sierra Leone government and the United Nations "is they have realized that perhaps boycotting meetings is not the best way to get their issues across that they wish to raise," UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki told the BBC on Saturday. "I think that perhaps their decision to boycott the earlier meeting may have been done in haste, and that they have indicated that they remain committed to the disarmament process and for disarmament to continue on schedule," she said. "We hold these meetings once a month, and it is in the RUF’s interest as well as everyone’s interest for them to participate in these meetings." Novicki said that UNAMSIL had received RUF assurances "at the highest levels of the RUF" that the rebel group would attend a reconvened meeting. Earlier this month RUF leaders failed to show up at a scheduled meeting in Makeni to protest the government's decision to delay elections until next May. Novicki said the meeting was now expected to take place next week, although no day had been set. "That’s in the process of being worked out," she said. "But the meetings look at a range of issues surrounding the disarmament process. We review the progress made so far in the process. We look at the next districts to be disarmed and make sure that everything is ready, all the combatants are ready to disarm in those areas, that all the logistical requirements are in place. And then inevitably all sides present other issues that they consider to be of importance which impact upon the disarmament process. So in that context we discuss a variety of issues that are of concern, both to the government and to the RUF."

14 September: United Nations peacekeepers deployed Friday in the eastern diamond-mining town of Tongo Field, BBC correspondent Siaffa Moriba reported from Kenema. "A convoy of vehicles and 12 armoured personnel carriers left Kenema this morning with heavily-armed Zambian UNAMSIL peacekeepers heading for Tongo," Moriba said. He quoted the Zambian commander as saying that nearly 500 men were deploying in the town, with more to follow in the coming days. 

RUF leaders have indicated they are ready to attend rescheduled tripartite talks with the Sierra Leone government and the United Nations, UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki said on Friday. The rebel group boycotted a meeting of the Joint Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration earlier this month to protest the government's decision to postpone elections until next May. "Disarmament basically is on track," Novicki told reporters. "We expect that the tripartite meeting is going to be scheduled for sometime next week and that disarmament will begin as scheduled in the next two districts of Bombali and Bo." RUF Political and Peace Council chairman Omrie Golley told the Sierra Leone Web Thursday that the rescheduled meeting would likely take place in Makeni. Golley added that RUF leaders were expected to raise a number of issues at the talks, including the government's six-month extension of the state of emergency, and its decision to postpone presidential and parliamentary elections until next May.

18,103 combatants had disarmed in Sierra Leone as of September 13, UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki said on Friday. The number includes 6,946 RUF rebels and 10,685 members of the CDF.

Former Minister of Trade and Industry Mike Lamin, who represented the RUF in a short-lived unity government until his arrest in May 2000 following the collapse of the peace process, has described conditions of his year-long detention at Pademba Road Prison as "very, very, very much inhumane...very horrible."  "I thank God that we went through it and I’m out," Lamin told BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana. Lamin, a former RUF intelligence officer who represented the rebel group at the Lomé peace talks, said he was in support of the disarmament process. "I’m happy that they are gone far, and that is a commendable effort on the part of United Nations," he said. "We were already doing that before we were incarcerated, so I’m happy that we are having a gun-free society, that we prepared the way for a democratic election in the near future." Lamin said Sierra Leoneans were determined to achieve "a genuine national reconciliation and peace."  "It wouldn’t be an easy task, but I know [we standing] will not be daunted by the kind of hurdles we went through," he said. "We still forge ahead to make sure that we have sustainable peace for our people."

The sound of gunfire was heard Thursday in the Freetown suburbs of Mallamah, Goderich and Lumley, PANA correspondent Pasco Temple reported. "We are very concerned about the shooting especially after the disarmament and demobilisation of combatants stalled," Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police Francis Munu said on Friday. The shooting caused panic and the closure of Pademba Road, leading to the country's maximum security prison, for three hours, Temple said. No suspects were identified. 

Sierra Leone's information minister has defended his government's decision to extend the state of emergency and to prolong the government's term in office by an additional six months. "Parliament is comprised of both government and opposition parties, and this was passed by an overwhelming majority, and only one party in the opposition voted against this extension," Dr. Cecil Blake told the BBC. "Now if you refer to civil society groups, there are some of them who are in favour of the extension and there are others who are not." The RUF had demanded the establishment of an interim transitional government in which it, along with opposition parties and civil society groups, would participate, and last month the rebel group threatened to stop cooperating with the peace process if the government failed to comply. Blake said the effect of the RUF threats on the peace process would depend on how the government and UNAMSIL reacted. "The RUF constitutes part of the opposition, and they are participating in the debate," he said. "I have to emphasise that this is a process. The RUF has made threats. They should be of course listened to, but it’s part of the process." Asked whether the government might consider releasing detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh, the minister was vague. "He is really under detention right now, and when the appropriate time arrives, that will be handled," he said. "I cannot say he will be released at this time or that time...The president would have to deal with that issue when the time comes." Blake said he was optimistic about the peace process in his country. "Sierra Leone is striving very hard to work towards peace," he said. "And as far as I’ve noticed, and with regard to conversations I’ve had across the board, people are committed to peace. The problems that we have right now is that people are debating mechanisms, the kind of formulation, that would best address our situation."

Sierra Leone's junior doctors have ended a month-long strike in support of their demands for better conditions of service, PANA correspondent Pasco Temple reported on Friday. Dr. Daphne Pearce was quoted as saying the doctors had returned to work because of their "concern for the people who have really suffered during this time" and "as a sign of appreciation for the support from concerned citizens and the respect for our senior colleagues of the Sierra Leone Medical and Dental Association who have Intervened." The doctors will work schedules ranging from eight to sixteen hours during the week and on Saturday mornings, Temple said. Pearce said the government had provided a limited quantity of drugs for treating patients. Meanwhile, the authorities have asked the Sierra Leone Medical and Dental Association to establish a medical board and to propose a new salary scale for doctors.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2200 / 2300 [£] 2745 / 3158. Commercial Bank: [$] 1850 / 2050. [£] 2590 / 2870. Frandia: [$] 2200 / 2300 [£] 2950 / 3150. Continental: [$] 2220 / 2320 [£] 3000 / 3200. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2225 / 2270 [£] 3000 / 3100.

13 September: As rescue workers continue the search for thousands of persons missing in Tuesday's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, at least one Sierra Leonean is known to be among the dead, the Washington Post reported. Hilda E. Taylor, a teacher at Washington's M.V. Leckie Elementary School, was a passenger on the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77, which was deliberately crashed into the Pentagon. Taylor had been on her way to California on a National Geographic field trip.

Tuesday's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington have forced the postponement the United Nations Special Session on Children, where President Kabbah had been scheduled to deliver an address on poverty eradication and the rights of the child. Kabbah arrived in London on Wednesday on the first leg of a month-long trip to the United States, Britain and Australia. "We are all touched by the events that struck New York and the U.S. on Tuesday," said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, herself a New York native. "We strongly support the General Assembly in its decision to postpone the summit on children. The City of New York needs to focus its energies on more urgent matters right now." Also postponed was the U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Philadelphia, which had also been on the president's itinerary.

12 September: Sierra Leone's parliament voted Tuesday to delay the country's presidential and parliamentary elections for an additional six months, agreeing with President Kabbah that the country was still too insecure, the Associated Press reported. Under the constitution, elections may be postponed if Sierra Leone is at war in which its physical territory is threatened. A number of opposition parties and civil society groups had opposed the extension, insisting that the country is no longer at war and that a constitutional basis for postponing the elections no longer exists. Opposition groups, including the RUF, have called instead for the formation of an interim transitional government to lead the country into the elections, a move opposed by the government.

The U.S. Embassy in Freetown closed early on Tuesday and was not expected to reopen until late Wednesday in the wake of Tuesday's terrorist attacks in the United States. Over the next several days, operations will be reduced and public access to the embassy will be limited, according to a warden message. Embassy personnel have been restricted to Freetown and are being asked to take additional security measures. "While we have no specific information about a possible threat to American interests in Sierra Leone, we believe these steps are prudent in light of the current situation," the statement said. Meanwhile, some 50 U.S. embassies and consulates remain closed around the world, according to news reports in the United States.

SIERRA LEONEAN REACTION to Tuesday's terrorist attacks on the United States: PRESIDENT AHMAD TEJAN KABBAH: I have heard with great shock the news about the cowardly attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, and the Pentagon in Washington. The Government and people of Sierra Leone deeply regret the massive loss of life and destruction of property. On behalf of the Government and people of Sierra Leone, and on my own personal behalf, please convey my heartfelt sympathy to the bereaved families, Government and people of the United States. I hope and pray that the Almighty God will give the injured people speed recovery, and the bereaved families succour and solace in this period of grief. NATIONAL UNITY PARTY (WEBSITE): The National Unity Party of Sierra Leone sends sincere condolences to the Government and people of the United States of America on this terrible day when faceless cowards perpetrated this dastardly act on innocent civilians. Our deepest sympathies go out to the surviving victims and the relatives of the deceased. RUF POLITICAL AND PEACE COUNCIL CHAIRMAN OMRIE GOLLEY: First of all, we’ve contacted the American charge d’affaires in Freetown, Sierra Leone today to share the sympathy of millions around the world with regards to the death and destruction that happened in the United States yesterday. On behalf of the movement I would like to add my voice to millions around the world to share the horror of what has happened and to say that we are sympathising with the president, the government and the people of the United States with this terrible act.

The United Nations Security Council was due to meet Thursday afternoon with troop-contributing countries of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), a U.N. spokesman said in New York.

11 September: Freetown residents have reacted with shock over news of Tuesday's terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center and on the Pentagon, which houses the U.S. defence headquarters, Information Minister Dr. Cecil Blake told the BBC. "A lot of people are flabbergasted," Blake said. "You know, the image of an impregnable America. People are just crowding around radio sets, and offices with televisions are crowded. Everybody is glued to their sets, looking at what is happening in the United States."

Britain's Minister for Europe called Tuesday for increased global efforts to end the trade in "conflict diamonds," blamed for fueling African conflicts in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Peter Hain's remarks came on the first day of a three-day meeting in London of diamond producing and importing nations —  part of the so-called Kimberly process which was begun in South Africa last year. "The U.N. General Assembly expects us to report back with the details of the proposed scheme before the end of December," Hain said. "It is imperative that we make substantial progress here," he told the start of a three-day negotiating meeting in London." Hain said progress had to be made on internal controls and in the development of forgery-proof certificates of origin, implementation of credible penalties for trafficking in conflict diamonds, and international supervision, the Reuters news agency reported. ""We must not be complacent," he said. "There is an urgent need for new regulations to be agreed and implemented. We must resist temptation to wander into sterile debate on issues which we have already discussed at length."  "Diamonds are the currency of choice for Africa's warlords because of their portability and anonymity," said Abu Brima (pictured left), National Coordinator of the Network Movement for Justice and Development and head of the Just Mining Campaign. "Diamonds have become the agents of slave labour, murder, dismemberment, mass homelessness and total economic collapse."

Nearly 60 percent of Sierra Leone's estimated 28,000 combatants have handed in their weapons since the disarmament programme resumed in May, according to figures released on Monday by the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR). The figures include 6,598 RUF (including 1,413 children), 9,546 CDF (988 of them children), 68 ex-SLA and 59 others (including 15 child combatants). The NCDDR figures are based on actual forms received from UNAMSIL and processed, resulting in somewhat lower numbers than those reported by the United Nations.

10 September: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his latest report to the Security Council on the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), has recommended a six-month extension in the force's mandate, to March 2002, a U.N. spokesman said in New York. The mission is scheduled to be discussed with troop-contributing countries on Wednesday and in the Security Council on Thursday. A formal resolution to extend UNAMSIL's mandate is expected to come on Monday. In the report, Annan noted progress in the country's Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme, and in the deployment of U.N. troops in Sierra Leone's diamond-producing areas. While these developments were grounds for cautious optimism, he said, many more challenges could be encountered in the months ahead, particularly in the period leading up to elections which, he warned, "could be fraught with tensions that could adversely affect the recent impressive gains in the peace process." Annan said that for the U.N. to carry out the task of providing security and logistical assistance for the elections, now scheduled for next May, a review was being undertaken to determine whether UNAMSIL would need to exceed the current authorised ceiling of 17,500 troops. Currently, UNAMSIL's actual strength stands at 16,664 personnel, making it the world's largest active peacekeeping operation. The secretary-general said that only after sufficient progress had been made in disarming and demobilising combatants, restoring government authority and reviving the economy could the United Nations begin to scale back its presence. Meanwhile, 160 Ukrainian soldiers left Freetown Monday at the end of their tour of duty with UNAMSIL. They have been replaced by a new batch of peacekeepers, bring the total strength of the Ukrainian contingent to 308 troops, UNAMSIL said.

Mano River Union foreign ministers meeting in the Guinean capital Conakry have agreed to hold a heads of state summit in January, the Reuters news agency reported, quoting delegation sources. The presidents of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia will meet in Conakry, the sources said, because Guinean President Lansana Conte is the oldest of the three, and because Guinea is considered to be the most secure of the three countries. This week's Joint Security Commission meeting is the third such ministerial-level meeting to take place since last month. Two more are expected to be held in Monrovia, at the end of September and in December, to prepare for the summit. Earlier Monday, Reuters said Conte had agreed to meet with his Liberian counterpart, President Charles Taylor of Liberia, in a bid to end the conflict along their common borders. Earlier this year, Conte had vowed he would never negotiate with the Liberian leader, but on Monday he was reported to have told Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan that he had changed his mind. "I'm ready to talk to put an end to our current crisis," Conte was quoted as saying during a meeting with Captan and Sierra Leone's Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Ahmed Ramadan Dumbuya. Conte reportedly described Taylor and President Kabbah as "intelligent and responsible people" and insisted that the Mano River Union states needed no outside mediators to help them settle their differences. The foreign ministers from the three countries were due to meet later on Monday to set a date for the presidential summit.

President Kabbah is set to leave on a month-long trip which will take him to the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. The president will attend the U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Philadelphia on Sunday and meet with business leaders on Monday. He will travel to New York on Tuesday where on Wednesday he will address the Special Session of the General Assembly on Children in a speech which will reportedly focus on poverty eradication and the rights of the child. On Wednesday afternoon, Kabbah and four other African heads of state will participate in a panel discussion on globalisation and economic prospects for Africa, organized by the Foreign Policy Association. He will also participate in an "interactive roundtable" of the Special Session on "Renewal of Commitment and Future Action for Children." On the 21st of September, Kabbah will receive an honorary doctorate Doctor of Laws from Southern Connecticut State University. The following day, he is expected to attend the dedication of the grave of six Sierra Leonean captives from the slave ship Amistad who died in Connecticut. In London, Kabbah will hold talks with British officials on the situation in Sierra Leone before departing for the Commonwealth conference in Australia.

The British charity MERLIN has delivered relief food and medical assistance to the rebel-held eastern diamond-mining town of Tongo Field, long cut off from assistance by Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war. MERLIN spokesman Sheku Conteh said the organisation had found conditions in the town to be "very terrible," with no health care facilities and a lack of food. "The structures in the township all had been vandalized," he said. "The few structures that are there are being occupied by the RUF." Conteh said people were facing hunger because food was expensive, while the road from Kenema to Tongo, always difficult in the rainy season, was nearly impassible. "Food cannot easily get to that location," he said. "They have to go by bush road because the vehicles cannot easily ply the road to take food items from Kenema to Tongo Field." Conteh said aid workers had found local residents suffering from a variety of ailments, including malaria, diarrheal diseases, malnutrition, scabies and, he said, the highly-contagious and often fatal lassa fever. He added that RUF officials had been cooperative with the aid workers. "They were very friendly with us," he said. "They received us well. They provided us accommodation. They provided us (an) area to run our clinic. It was quite a good reception, actually."

The British High Commission in Freetown has issued a statement rejecting an RUF suggestion that imprisoned rebel leader Foday Sankoh is being held by the British government. The allegation was made most recently by RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi who, in a letter last month to the United Nations, asked that RUF representatives and human rights observers be allowed to visit Sankoh "wherever he is in custody of Government and the British."  "The High Commission categorically denies that the United Kingdom hold or have ever held Corporal Foday Sankoh," Press and Public Affairs spokesman Derek Smith said on Monday. "The Sierra Leone Police arrested Corporal Sankoh on 17 May 2000. The Government of Sierra Leone under its Emergency Powers is holding him in custody."

The National Electoral Commission is preparing the groundwork to hold paramount chief elections next year in 54 of Sierra Leone's 149 chiefdoms, the official Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA) reported on Monday. Since May 1991, 18 paramount chiefs have died in the east, 15 in the north, and 21 in the south. SLENA listed the affected chiefdoms as Bagbo, Baoma, Bumpe, Jaiama Bongor, Kakua, Komboya, Niawa Lenga, Tikonko and Wunde in Bo District; Jong, Kwamebai-Krim and Sittia in Bonthe District; Gallinas Perri, Makpele, Kpanga Kabondeh, Peje, Soro Gbema and Sowa in Bonthe District; Jawi, Luawa, Malema, Mandu, Upper Bambara, Yawakei and Kissi Kama in Kailahun District; Gorama Mende, Dodo, Koya, Dama, Small Bo, Nomo and Langurama in Kenema District, and Lei, Fiama, Kamara and Gbense in Kono District. The news service did not provide a breakdown by chiefdom in Northern Province, but they include Braimia in Kambia District; T.M. Safroko, Maforki, Bureh Kaseh and Marampa in Port Loko District; Mongo and Kasunko in Koinadugu District; and Kholifa Mabang in Tonkolili District.

9 September: Delegations from the Mano River Union countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia continued discussions Sunday on the problem of rebel insurgencies along their common borders, BBC correspondent Alhassan Sylla reported. "Sources in the (Joint Security Committee) have told me that they’ve basically agreed on two issues that they’ve been discussing since yesterday," Sylla said. "The first one is a sanctions clause in the non-aggression pact which seeks to extradite people who belong to dissident groups involving each of the three countries, and then secondly, they’ve also agreed that they would be setting up a tribunal to try those who will flout these agreements, which includes the extradition of those people who want to foment rebellion or any other means of destabilisation within the three countries." The commission's recommendations will be taken up on Monday at ministerial-level talks involving the ministers of foreign affairs, justice and security from the three states.

8 September: The Mano River Union's Joint Security Commission met in the Guinean capital Conakry Saturday, for discussions on how to deal with the problem of armed insurgents operating in the sub-region, the Reuters news agency reported. Guinean officials were quoted as saying that the the talks, in advance of Monday's ministerial meeting, were expected to focus on rebel groups operating along the border region. At their last meeting in Freetown, the governments of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia agreed that rebel insurgents should be repatriated. In Conakry, the talks were expected to focus on the formation of a regional tribunal to try the rebels, and measures to ensure the countries hand them over, Reuters said.

Sierra Leone's Chief of Defence Staff has complained that RUF rebels blocked a military supply convoy bound for Bumbuna via the rebel-held town of Makeni. Brigadier Tom Carew told the Reuters news agency that the rebels had turned back seven trucks carrying food and other supplies. "If the RUF has shown commitment by allowing my troops about three times to cross their occupied areas...I see no reason why they have to refuse this time around," Carew said. "I hope that the (RUF) High Command will quickly see reason for us to go back to the trust that we have established for peace in Sierra Leone." Last month, the RUF threatened to stop cooperating with the the peace process if the government failed to address rebel demands for the formation of an interim transitional government which would lead the country through presidential and parliamentary elections.

7 September: Parliament voted Friday to extend by six months the country's state of emergency, which has been effect since the restoration of Sierra Leone's civilian government in 1998. The move, which proceeded despite vocal opposition from some opposition parties, came on a vote of 56 in favour to five against, with two abstentions and seven absentees, the BBC reported.

The Sierra Leone government would not oppose a consultative conference on the political process, according to a statement issued from State House on Friday. The statement, which came in response to an RUF letter outlining  reasons the rebel group boycotted Thursday's planned tripartite talks in Makeni, said the government had held extensive consultations on the political process with other political parties, civil society groups, and parliament. "If the RUF was not involved in this consultation, it is because the RUF has no effective representation in Freetown," the statement said, adding that at this week's meeting in Kono, President Kabbah had had asked RUF officials to appoint someone to liaise between the RUF and the government in order to defuse potential misunderstandings which could adversely affect the peace process. But the government dismissed a rebel demand for the release of its detained members, noting that the two sides had agreed in Abuja that RUF detainees would be released gradually, depending on progress in the peace process. The statement also rejected an allegation that RUF members were being harassed, pointing out that a number of RUF members had been travelling to, and even living in, Freetown and other towns without incident.

The Sierra Leone government is preparing to transfer RUF detainees from Bonthe to Makeni, UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki confirmed Friday at a press briefing in Freetown. Meanwhile, the UNAMSIL military spokesman, Major Mohammed Yerima (pictured right), confirmed that the RUF had prevented Sierra Leone Army troops from passing through Makeni on their way to the government-held town of Bumbuna. "The SLA did not ask for any help from UNAMSIL," Yerima said. "The information that we got is that they were stopped by the RUF and they came back."

Recent developments in Sierra Leone's peace process give cause for optimism, but there are "also many reasons to proceed with extreme caution," Canada's Special Envoy to Sierra Leone, David Pratt (pictured left) concluded in a new report released in Ottawa on Friday. "The ultimate test will be the diamond areas of Kono and Tongo Field," Pratt observed. "Until both the RUF and the Civil Defence Force cede full control of these areas to the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone and full control of diamond mining to the Government of Sierra Leone, it would be premature to believe that peace has been achieved." The report also pointed to the role of Liberian President Charles Taylor, long believed to be a major backer of Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. "If he believes that it is no longer in his interest to support the RUF, and if he acts accordingly, the conflict could well be at an end," Pratt said. The report also described as "absolutely essential" Sierra Leone's Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration process in restoring stability to Sierra Leone. "If ex-combatants do not receive the minimal support they have been promised through the DDR, the likelihood of renewed fighting is high and a collapse of the peace process could be viewed as inevitable," it said. Pratt also warned that the humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone, already serious, is likely to get worse before it gets better. "With the onset of the rainy season and the possible return of more than 100,000 refugees from Guinea, the situation is likely to become much worse through 2001," he said. Pratt noted that the roots of the Sierra Leone conflict lay in poor governance, responsible for a disappearing formal economy, youth unemployment, debilitating poverty, poor education and a weak infrastructure. "Ongoing financial support for good governance and long-term economic development are absolutely vital if the enormous investment in peacekeeping and emergency assistance is to bear fruit," he write. "If, after the emergency abates, Sierra Leone becomes a neglected donor backwater once again, the chances of a return to violence will be high."

UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki has played down the failure of RUF rebel leaders to attend Thursday's tripartite talks in Makeni, noting that "no peace process is one hundred percent smooth all the time."  "The important thing to remember is that the RUF and the government have made tremendous strides, particularly over the last several months, in pushing the peace process forward," she told the BBC. "There has been a lot of give and take on both sides, and again some statesmanship will have to be shown on both sides so that the process can continue to move forward." In a letter to UNAMSIL, the RUF listed a number of concerns it said it wanted addressed, including reported ceasefire violations by the CDF, the establishment of a proposed Special Court, the continued detention of RUF members, and the lifting of the state of emergency. The letter also demanded that the tripartite talks be opened to participation by civil society groups. "I don’t think that adding additional parties to this particular forum may necessarily be the best answer," Novicki said. "If indeed the government and the RUF would like to broaden their discussions to include members of civil society, perhaps there are other ways in which that could be organized. But these meetings are dealing specifically with disarmament issues, as agreed to in Abuja II."

More than 100 British soldiers were due to begin pulling out of Sierra Leone Friday, the PA News reported. Last week, British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon announced a downsizing of British forces in Sierra Leone by about 200, leaving 360 troops in the country.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2220 / 2300 [£] 2750 / 3158. Commercial Bank: [$] 1850 / 2050. [£] 2950 / 2870. Frandia: [$] 2220 / 2300 [£] 2950 / 3150. Continental: [$] 2220 / 2300 [£] 3000 / 3200. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2225 / 2270 [£] 3000 / 3100.

6 September: Sierra Leone's RUF rebels boycotted tripartite talks with the government and UNAMSIL Thursday following the government's announcement Wednesday that presidential and parliamentary elections would be put off until May 14. "They cannot take decisions on this all by themselves; they are just one out of 21 political parties. That is why we are boycotting the meeting," RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi (pictured right) told the Reuters news agency, adding: "The mandate of President Kabbah is over. We want a consultative conference where all political parties, all civil society will take a decision on the political future."  Massaquoi said the RUF wanted to see elections take place in 18 months' time, but that the date should be agreed upon by all parties. Thursday's meeting of the Joint Committee on Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration, which was to have taken place in the rebel-held town of Makeni, would have reviewed progress in the ongoing disarmament process. Meanwhile, the head of the RUF's political wing, Political and Peace Council chairman Omrie Golley (left), suggested Thursday that any further extension of the government's term in office would be unconstitutional. Sierra Leone's 1991 constitution provides that, if the country is at war in which its physical territory is threatened, the president with the consent of parliament may delay elections for up to six months at a time. But Golley, who spoke to the Sierra Leone Web from the Ivorian commercial capital Abidjan, insisted that Sierra Leone was no longer in a state of war, and called for a "consultative conference of traditional paramount chiefs, of opposition parties, and those other stakeholders in society and in the peace process" to decide what form of government would be best placed to handle the consolidation of the peace process. "You cannot say on the one hand an interim government or some consultative process is not the best way to handle the situation because it’s not constitutional when you yourself are not strictly invoking properly the provisions of the constitution in respect to extending your life," he said. Golley stressed that the RUF was not threatening to disrupt the disarmament process if it didn't get its way, but said the rebel group now saw itself as part of the country's political opposition. "The RUF considers itself now to be a political force in the country, without a political party," he said. "And one of the things that the RUF is not going to do is to act unilaterally in determining this issue. The RUF considers itself to be part of a group of opposition parties and other groupings who feel concerned about the present state of affairs politically in the country. We would continue to abide by the provisions of the agreements that we have signed, and we would continue to disarm in the manner in which we have agreed."

Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General in Sierra Leone, has expressed regret at the RUF's decision to boycott Thursday's scheduled tripartite talks in Makeni. Adeniji said efforts to locate the RUF leadership in Makeni had proven unsuccessful and, according to a UNAMSIL statement, said he hoped the RUF's failure to attend was not "an indication of what the future holds," but instead "a hiccup" in the peace process. According to UNAMSIL, the RUF leadership informed Adeniji by letter that it would not attend the meeting "until various concerns" raised by the rebel group had been addressed. This included reported ceasefire violations by the CDF in Koinadugu District, the establishment of a proposed Special Court, RUF members still detained by the government, and the statement of emergency. The letter also demanded the participation of civil society organisations in any meeting with the government.

The planned reduction of British troops in Sierra Leone by one third will no affect on the country's security situation, the commander of British forces said on Thursday. "There is absolutely no justification for anybody to feel nervous because of any action that the British are taking," Brigadier Nick Parker told the BBC. He noted that with disarmament taking place and with a strengthened United Nations peacekeeping force deploying across the country, the British move should be seen "as a very sensible re-evaluation of the mission in the light of a changing situation." Parker said the restructured, British-trained, Sierra Leone Army was "far further on" than could have been expected a year ago, and was now "in a position in a straight fight to take on anybody who chose to take them on." But he acknowledged that there was more work to be done. "What we want to try and do is to improve some of their mechanisms, make sure the armed forces are accountable, make sure that they have a proper Ministry of Defence that connects properly to the lower level of command," he said. "We are providing advisors at brigade and battalion level who can advise on the way that operations training and logistics should be conducted."

5 September: The Sierra Leone government has released 31 more RUF detainees in advance of a new round of tripartite talks between the government, the RUF and UNAMSIL aimed at advancing the peace process, the Reuters news agency reported. Among those released were Mike Lamin (pictured right), the former Minister for Trade and Industry in a short-lived unity government, and Eldred Collins (left), the former RUF spokesman. Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said the government found it "appropriate" to continue releasing RUF detainees in light of recent improvements in the peace process, the rebels' release of child soldiers, and their cooperation with UNAMSIL. "The government wants the RUF to have the people they need to establish their political party," he said. "We don't want to give them an excuse to say they don't have their people because they are in detention." The freed RUF members are reportedly now in the custody of UNAMSIL. In addition to Lamin and Collins, according to a list subsequently published by the official Sierra Leone News Agency, were Tejan Barrie, Mohamed Allieu Bah, Musa Kanneh, Eugene Cole, Abu Suba Sesay, Alhaji Bockarie Sesay, Obai Kamara, Noah Turay, James Jusu, Tamba Gborie, Emmanuel Tamba, Sheku Kamara, Mohamed Kallon II, Momoh Kamara, Mohamed Sesay, Idrisa Kanu, Francis Kemoh, Alpha Wurie, Kalawah Conteh, Sahr Sandy, Ismail Osseh Banraah, Idrisa Conteh, Sannah Kamara, Hassan Kamara, John George, Alpha Kabika, Ismail Sesay, Mohamed Jah and Santigie Mansaray Steven Sahr Williams. Meanwhile, RUF Political and Peace Council chairman Omrie Golley (lower left) told the Sierra Leone Web he knew of the release of only some eleven RUF members, including Lamin and Collins. "The RUF is welcoming the decision of the government to release these members of the RUF," he said by telephone from Abidjan. "We are continuing with our request for the government to give speedy consideration that would lead to the release of all the other members presently held in detention." In a BBC interview, Information Minister Dr. Cecil Blake said the freeing of the detainees was a sign of the government's commitment to the peace process. "It also stems from agreements that were reached at Lomé in which each side was supposed to do what it would have to do in order to push the peace process forward," he said. "The president believes that we are at a situation right now in terms of the peace process and the overall security of the country in which these people could be released." Referring to Thursday's tripartite meeting in Makeni, Blake said the release of RUF officials would "definitely would have an impact" on the direction of disarmament, particularly in the country's northern Bombali District.

Sierra Leone's presidential and parliamentary elections will take place next May 14 — more than a year behind schedule — Information Minister Dr. Cecil Blake announced on Wednesday. "This is the date which the National Electoral Commission believes would be the most appropriate date," Blake told the BBC. "The date falls in line with projections as to when the disarmament process will conclude, and also projections as to the state of security in the country." In recent months the RUF, along with a number of opposition parties and civil society groups, has called for the formation of an interim government to guide the country through the elections. "We are not going to go along with that," Blake said. "First of all, calling for an interim government presupposed that there is not a constitutional government in place. There is a constitutional government in place, and so the logic for an interim arrangement doesn’t simply hold." The minister downplayed RUF threats to stop cooperating with the peace process in the absence of an interim government. He noted that the issue had not come up in Monday's meeting between President Kabbah and RUF interim leader General Issa Sesay, when government and rebel delegations met in Koidu with the visiting leaders of Nigeria and Mali. "If there were going to be any problems with regard to these issues that were raised, that should have surfaced at that time," he said. "There will be debates. You know, we live in a democracy here, and people will debate these issues and we’ll have people who are for and against it. And that’s the democratic process."

Britain's High Commissioner to Sierra Leone has denied press reports that imprisoned RUF leader Foday Sankoh, detained more than a year ago after the rebel group abducted more than 500 United Nations peacekeepers and resumed hostilities, was in British hands. "We at no time have ever held Corporal Sankoh," Alan Jones said in an address to open the Westminster Foundation for Democracy training programme in Freetown. "He has at all times been in the custody of the government of Sierra Leone where he remains today."

4 September: RUF leaders urged the presidents of Mali and Nigeria to pressure President Kabbah into stepping down when his mandate expires this month, the Reuters news agency reported. President Alpha Oumar Konare of Mali and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo met with Sierra Leone government and rebel leaders behind closed doors Monday in the diamond-rich Kono District. "The tenure in office of the ruling government has ended, but we are not optimistic because Kabbah wants to stay in power," RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi was quoted as saying. Massaquoi repeated his call for a national consultative conference to form an interim government which would guide the country through presidential and parliamentary elections. "Any type of established government agreed upon in this conference would be well-placed to complete disarmament and oversee the forthcoming elections," he said. Massaquoi told Reuters correspondent Christo Johnson that the government should release members of the rebel movement, including RUF leader Foday Sankoh. "This government is not credible enough to detain anybody for war crimes which they too are guilty of," he said. The rebel spokesman complained about the Sierra Leone Army's presence in Koinadugu District, and accused members of the Civil Defence Forces of harassing RUF supporters in the area. He added that the RUF could "bring the peace process to a standstill" if its demands were ignored, but said the rebels had no intention of resuming the war. "Our people want peace, they don't want war any more," he said.

Peter Russell Chaveas, a career diplomat, was sworn in Tuesday as the new U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone. The oath was administered by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Lee Armitage in a ceremony attended by Sierra Leonean Ambassador John Leigh and five former U.S. ambassadors to Sierra Leone. He succeeds Ambassador Joseph Melrose Jr., who has served in Freetown since 1998. Chaveas, who received his undergraduate degree from Denison University and his masters from Rutgers, has served since 1997 as political advisor to the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany. From 1994 to 1997 he was Chief of Mission in Malawi. At the State Department, Chaveas has held the posts of Director of West African Affairs and Director of Southern African Affairs, and he has twice served in the Bureau of International Organisation Affairs. Chaveas has held a variety of overseas posts, including Principal Officer in Johannesburg, South Africa and Political Officer in Lagos, Nigeria.

Monday's visit to Koidu by President Kabbah and the leaders of Mali and Nigeria was to assess progress in disarmament and to build confidence in the peace process, Information Minister Dr. Cecil Blake told the BBC. "This was to let the people of Kono realise and appreciate the fact that we are right now moving towards the achievement of full peace, and that they should be ready to participate in this process," he said. Blake described the city of Koidu as "practically decimated," with very few buildings still standing. But he also noted that people were beginning to return to their homes. "People are going back," he said. "When I arrived in Kono yesterday, I was talking with some members of the Pakistani armed forces, part of UNAMSIL, and they were expressing surprise, they were expressing joy that so many people were coming back to Kono since they arrived. So there is movement. And this visit will boost that enthusiasm for people to start returning."

Combatants will only be allowed to disarm in groups of ten or more, and no longer individually, under revised rules published by the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR). At least two thirds of the combatants in the group must turn in weapons, and groups which attempt to hand over ammunition without weapons will not be accepted. After disarmament has been declared complete in a district, persons in possession of arms or ammunition will be given a week to hand them over to authorities. Those found with arms and ammunition after that period would be subject to prosecution, the NCDDR said in a statement. 

13,949 combatants, including 2,020 children, disarmed in Sierra Leone between May 18 and August 27, according to figures released on Monday by the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR). The figures included 5,209 RUF fighters (1,293 of them children), 8,624 CDF combatants (718 of them children), 67 ex-SLA and 49 others (including nine children). 

3 September: President Kabbah shook hands for the first time Monday with RUF interim leader General Issa Sesay and declared that Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war was at an end, the Associated Press reported. Kabbah, accompanied by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Alpha Oumar Konare, the President of Mali and current ECOWAS chairman, met with rebel leaders at the Catholic church in Koidu, one of the few intact buildings in the country's eastern Kono District. "From the discussion the three heads of states had with the RUF leadership, today I am convinced that the war is over," Kabbah said. He praised Sesay for speeding up the peace process, and described the meeting as "marking a turning point in the disarmament process, which has been remarkable." Obasanjo praised the RUF leader for his "singular leadership qualities" in persuading the rebels to disarm. "As from today, you are no more a rebel leader, but Mr. Issa Sesay," he said. Earlier, the presidents and RUF leaders met behind closed doors where, AP correspondent Clarence Roy-Macaulay noted, the rebels evidently raised a number of demands. "Some of the requests are impossible, while others are difficult," Obasanjo said. He did not elaborate.

2 September: Sierra Leone's nurses have followed the country's doctors in laying down tools in a dispute with the government over their pay and conditions of service, the BBC reported on Sunday. "Salaries are low," Sierra Leone Nurses' Association president Frances Kumba Kono said. "There’s no extra allowances for inducement. Promotions have stagnated. We have no medical facilities available to us. The hospitals are filthy." And while acknowledging that the strike was causing hardship for patients, she said that nurses could not continue to care for others while their own needs were not being met. "As long as the authorities refuse to dialogue with us, we continue to hold on until we can sit down and negotiate on our own behalf," she said. "Then maybe we can come to one and decide to go back to our job." The nurses' association president complained that the government had not yet met with the striking nurses, and said her members wanted an independent body to look into matter. "It’s our government refuse to listen to us," she said. "This (strike) is not our wish. You can even imagine that when the doctors went to strike, the nurses did not join them. They were anticipating that we might join them but we didn’t because we thought the government would be reasonable enough to understand that maybe this is the best time to dialogue with the nurses, because our own letter went in first before the doctors wrote theirs."

A leading member of Sierra Leone's Civil Society Movement has warned about the influence of ethnicity on the country's political life, and says a national consultative conference is the only way to mend the political rift. "We have a divided nation," said Zainab Bangura, leader of the Campaign for Good Governance. "The issue of the war was different: Because of the atrocities and who the RUF were, the government came together with the civil society and the people of Sierra Leone. We’ve gone beyond the war. We are talking about politics. We are talking about elections. We are talking about the future of Sierra Leone. And therefore the division becomes more clear." Bangura, who has herself been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, noted that only six of the 21 registered political parties were represented in parliament. "We don’t have any civil society representation in parliament," she told the Voice of America. "And therefore, if we have to engage the entire country, we have a forum other than parliament in which parliament itself can participate." She denied that the purpose of such a conference would be to replace the current government. "It is for us to engage each other and dialogue and look for a way forward," she said.

1 September: Britain will reduce by 200 the number of its troops in Sierra Leone next week, from over 550 to 360, the Associated Press reported on Saturday. Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said the British Army's Short-Term Training Team would complete its work on Friday. "The training assistance provided by the British Army to the Sierra Leonean Army has been a key factor in helping transform the security situation in the country," Hoon said in a statement. "The deployment earlier this year into the Kambia region in the north west of the country clearly demonstrated the new-found discipline and professionalism of the Sierra Leone Army. Our soldiers can be justifiably proud of the work they have done." Staff members who remain in Sierra Leone will act as military observers and staff officers for UNAMSIL, the Ministry of Defence said. About 110 British troops will also provide security for the International Military Advisory and Training Team (IMATT), which now takes over the task of training the restructured Sierra Leone Army.

An RUF spokesman complained Saturday about the deployment of Sierra Leone Army troops in an area of northern Sierra Leone until just recently under rebel control. Gibril Massaquoi told the BBC that troops which had been allowed to travel to Kabala via the RUF stronghold of Makeni had pushed into areas where rebel combatants had disarmed only two days before. "This is our concern, because we believe that UNAMSIL should be the sole body that is responsible to deploy in the major towns including district and provincial headquarters towns all throughout this country," Massaquoi said. He insisted that the deployment had taken place without the knowledge of U.N. peacekeepers. "Just yesterday myself and the leadership were discussing this same issue with the Deputy Force Commander, and he told us that he was not aware of what has happened exactly, and that he is going to make a cross check and have us informed exactly what has happened," he said. Massaquoi alleged that soldiers had harassed some 50 civilians suspected of being RUF supporters. "People were flogged," he said. "Those that they alleged that they were RUF supporters, who are civilians. Our party has supporters. Civilians were flogged, some of them were tied up, some of them were beaten." There has been no independent confirmation of the claim. In what would appear to be a dramatic turnaround in the RUF's position toward the British presence in Sierra Leone, Massaquoi praised Britain's role in rebuilding the country's military. "What we have been saying is that their role here in training the army, which includes the RUF, has been very, very fruitful and we supported that idea," he said. "In fact, I have been speaking to most senior officers of the British Army. They are having the cordial rapport between us." In the past, RUF officials have often described the British troops as "mercenaries" and demanded that they be expelled. And in an interview with the Sierra Leone Web in late June, Massaquoi insisted the British were not interested in bringing peace to Sierra Leone. "They are interested in getting the minerals out of Sierra Leone. I will tell you for sure. The British in particular," he said, adding: "All what they are doing here is because they want to get to Kono and start mining. You will prove me right one day. You will say Gibril was telling me one day." But little more than two months later, Massaquoi suggested that things have changed. "I was in a meeting with the British, and I made it clear to them that we are not against them," he said. "All what we are saying is we wanted a sustainable peace, not a peace that is dictated by one party. Peace that is in the interest of the people of Sierra Leone. Whether the British leave or not, then we are ready to give our people of this country peace. That has been our primary motive since November last year."

UNAMSIL is continuing its investigation into RUF allegations of a recent CDF attack on rebel positions at Alikalia, acting UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Martin Agwai said on Saturday. According to a UNAMSIL statement, Agwai told reporters in Freetown that he had made several trips to the area as part of his ongoing investigation into the matter. Meanwhile, Agwai met in Makeni Thursday with senior RUF officials, including interim leader General Issa Sesay (pictured left), spokesman Gibril Massaquoi, chief security officer Colonel Augustine Gbao and chief of administration Jonathan Kposowa to discuss Monday's planned visit to Kono by President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare. Konare is also the current chairman of ECOWAS.

A spokesman for the United Nations Children's Fund alleged Friday that U.N. sanctions on Liberia were hurting ordinary people and not the government, the Reuters news agency reported. In March the United Nations Security Council imposed targeted, or "smart sanctions," including an expanded arms embargo, a travel ban on senior Liberian officials, and an embargo on Liberian diamonds, in an effort to force the Liberian government to cease its alleged support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels while minimizing the effect on ordinary Liberians. But MacArthur Hill, UNICEF's spokesman in Liberia, said the sanctions were having the opposite effect. "The sanctions are hurting the wrong people -- the ordinary population, women and children," he told Reuters. "We know fewer children are going to school, while healthcare and education facilities are constantly deteriorating." Hill, a Liberian national, also blamed Western countries, particularly Britain and the United States, for branding Liberia as a "pariah" state and thus making it difficult for the country to obtain relief assistance. "We launched a consolidated appeal for funds earlier this year — and got nothing," he said. In December the Liberian government informed a U.N. Panel of Experts investigating the so-called diamonds-for-arms trade in Sierra Leone that the country had exported only 8,500 carats of diamonds in 1999, for a value of about $900,000 — far under Liberia's estimated annual production capacity of 150,000 carats. The Panel of Experts also recommended an embargo on the export of Liberian timber. A new Panel of Experts is currently looking into the possibility of toughened sanctions, and will report back to the Security Council on October 15. But Hill said any new sanctions would only rebound on ordinary people. "The people of Liberia would suffer more. Look at Iraq," he said. "Have the sanctions against Iraq hit more the government or the people?"