The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

September 2002
 

30 September: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers called on the international community Monday to do more to assist refugees who return to their own countries such as Sierra Leone and Afghanistan, the Associated Press reported. "The challenge now is to ensure the effective reintegration of those going home" by helping rebuild war-torn countries, Lubbers told the refugee agency's governing body in Geneva. "Without this, returns may not be sustainable and the whole cycle of instability and displacement may once again begin." Lubbers said that when refugees were unable to return home, they needed more help to "become self reliant and make positive contributions to the local society and economy" in their host countries. Lubbers said the agency was facing a funding shortfall of $48 million this year, forcing additional cuts in operations. "Since we already reduced the 2002 budget in the middle of the year...these additional reductions will have further severe consequences for refugees," he said. At last year's end there were some 19.8 million refugees worldwide, a drop of two million over the previous year.

Britain is extending partnerships with Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Mozambique and Uganda aimed at bring about increased development and poverty reduction, International Development Secretary Clare Short said on Monday. According to the Press Association News, Short announced that the British government would also provide an additional $7 million for relief and rehabilitation to support peace efforts in Angola, Congo, Sudan and Rwanda. Short said she had just returned from a World Bank meeting where she said there had been an "unprecedented consensus" among both rich and poor countries that action and not words were needed to end world poverty. "This will now be the focus of a united global effort," she said.

28 September: A court in Malta ordered the immediate expulsion Saturday of 120 would-be African immigrants, including three who claimed to be Sierra Leonean nationals, for breaking Maltese immigration laws. The immigrants were among 235 persons whose boat was found drifting in the open seas off the island nation on Friday. Many Africans who attempt to enter Europe illegally claim to be Sierra Leoneans in the hope of receiving a more favourable consideration of their claims for asylum, but Sierra Leone's Honorary Consul to Malta, Joseph Dougall (pictured left), said there was reason to doubt that the three men ordered expelled on Saturday were Sierra Leoneans. With the end of the Sierra Leone's civil war, he added, Malta no longer gives Sierra Leoneans special consideration. Dougall said Maltese authorities were growing increasingly concerned about the large number of European-bound immigrants who were accidentally landing on their shores. Malta is situated midway on their route, some 120 miles from the North African coast and just 60 miles off the Italian island of Sicily. "The government system here is overstretched, and it is costing about $3 per person who is kept in detention waiting to be deported," he told the Sierra Leone Web. "To repatriate them costs even more. From what has been gathered, most of these are told when they leave the North African shores that a bigger ship will meet them out at sea and will cross them over to Italy, which is very close. They are normally charged between $1000 to $2000 each, and passports are also 'collected' from them. Many times, African bodies are washed ashore in North Africa, and some Italian fishermen have also reported to have found such bodies entangled in their nets."

27 September: Sierra Leone's soccer team reached Abidjan Friday after being being evacuated from the strife-town Ivorian town of Bouake late on Thursday, Youth and Sports Minister Dr. Dennis Bright told the Sierra Leone Web. "They were taken out of Bouake by the French and the ICRC, and they were taken to Yamoussoukro last night," Bright said. "Just about five minutes ago they called me to say that they had arrived in Abidjan." The players are due to board a plane sent by Gambia, which also had a team stranded in Bouake, and are expected to arrive in Freetown by 6:00 p.m. local time. 

RUF leader Foday Sankoh has suffered a partial stroke which has left him weakened on his left side, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported on Friday. Sankoh failed to appear before Freetown's High Court last week, where he faces a 70-count indictment for murder, attempted murder, and related charges. Prosecutors cited unspecified medical reasons for the former rebel leader's absence. Fofana said doctors, including some attached to UNAMSIL, had advised prison authorities that Sankoh should be hospitalised. "My sources confirmed today that Foday Sankoh is unable to walk as a result of extreme tiredness due also to the fact that he had been in solitary confinement for quite a long time," Fofana said.

The last displaced camps in Kenema have been officially closed following the resettlement of a last batch of students and their relatives in Kailahun, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday. The WFP also collaborated with the UNHCR to help 343 Sierra Leoneans who returned from Liberia to resettle in Kailahun District, the agency said. Meanwhile, the influx of Liberian refugees near Zimmi continued to slow in September. During the past two weeks the WFP provided 8,200 refugees at camps in Jembe and Gerihun with 95 tons of food. 

Investigators for Sierra Leone's Special Court cordoned off a 300-metre perimeter around a flooded diamond pit Thursday in the Kono District mining town of Tombodu, where the bodies of hundreds of civilians were allegedly dumped following a massacre in the town in 1998. The site was the first to be preserved among what may eventually prove to be scores of execution sites and mass graves scattered throughout Sierra Leone. According to a statement released by the court on Friday, Chief of Investigations Dr. Alan White confirmed that bones and other remains found at the edge of the pit were "clearly human." Evidence of atrocities was present in other areas of Tombodu as well. White showed reporters a house which contained numerous skulls and other human remains, but said it was of limited use to investigators because it had been tampered with. Special Court Chief Prosecutor David Crane (pictured right), who is mandated to bring to justice a handful of ringleaders deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed during Sierra Leone's civil war, told reporters his investigators were "hopeful that the evidence here will lead to convictions." Later, at a two-hour meeting at the Koidu Community Centre, Crane told about 300 gathered residents that he would not be influenced in his work by "anything other than the interests of the people of Sierra Leone."   "I will go wherever the evidence takes me – commanders, their backers, and anyone else who bears the greatest responsibility...No one is above the law," he said. Crane told told the crowd, which included victims, ex-combatants, members of youth groups, school teachers and traditional leaders, that he intended to pursue his mandate vigorously. "No one in the world deserves to suffer in the way that the people of your district have suffered," he said. "Justice cannot be reserved only for the rich. It is the right of every person in the world, no matter how poor." Crane, whose trip to Kono was his first to the provinces since he took up his post in August, told reporters his visit to Koidu was "an important and intense experience – having an honest dialogue with the people I have come to represent as a lawyer," the Associated Press reported.

A British freelance journalist who once covered the conflict in Sierra Leone has reportedly been killed while covering the Chechen conflict in Russia, the Associated Press reported. Roddy Scott, 31, had covered hot spots in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, and was co-author of the book called "The World's Most Dangerous Places," an annual travel guide based partly on his experiences. He nearly died of malaria while reporting on Sierra Leone. 

26 September: Rebellious soldiers holding Ivory Coast's second city of Bouake have agreed to a 48-hour ceasefire to allow for the evacuation of hundreds of foreigners trapped by the fighting, news services reported. Among those who have been stranded at their Bouake hotel since the violence erupted a week ago are 18 Sierra Leonean football players, seven officials, a referee, and a Sierra Leonean doctor. A handful of other Sierra Leoneans, many of them long-time residents, also live in the town. Sierra Leone's Youth and Sports Minister, Dr. Dennis Bright, said he hoped the team had managed to make use of the ceasefire to find their way to safety. Bright told the Sierra Leone Web that the Gambian government was planning to send a plane to Abidjan to pick up its football team which, along with the the Sierra Leoneans and Senegalese, was likewise in Bouake to compete for the WAFU cup. He said the Gambian government had just agreed to transport the Sierra Leoneans as well, once they reached Ivory Coast's commercial capital of Abidjan. "We requested them to airlift our (team) too, and they’ve just sent to say okay, they would be doing just that," Bright said. "Probably not just us but also the Senegalese (team). But they will be doing that from Abidjan. We are only waiting for information now that (the players) have moved out, they have used the opportunity of the ceasefire to move out from Bouake to Abidjan." Late Thursday, however, Sierra Leonean team coach Obi Sam Metzger told Radio France International that the team was still waiting to be evacuated. "We’ve been told to wait for the French troops, because we’ve already packed our bags," he said. "Both the Gambian and the Sierra Leone delegations, we are down at the lobby of the hotel." He said there was no word on when the evacuation might take place, but that he expected the teams would leave Bouake by road. "I think we will go by bus," he said. "It’s just that (the French troops) will be around the bus, leading and be behind the bus. But I’m sure that we will go by a bus." Metzger said conditions at the hotel were deteriorating. "Water has gone out for some time now," he said. "We are using the swimming pool water to bathe and we are having a sack of water for a day. The situation is terrible. It’s dangerous, it’s terrible, and it’s getting worse. We want to get out as soon as possible."

25 September: Football players and team officials from Sierra Leone, Senegal and the Gambia who have been trapped in their hotel in Bouake since violence erupted in the Ivory Coast seven days ago will reportedly be evacuated by the International Committee of the Red Cross, a Western official told the Sierra Leone Web on Wednesday. The French and American governments have sent troops to the beleaguered city to evacuate their own nationals. On Tuesday loyalist forces and rebel soldiers backed by local youths fought a three-hour battle for control of Bouake, but a source in the town told the Sierra Leone Web by telephone that things were "very quiet" on Wednesday. "Maybe just an occasional shot – one or two that might have happened, but that’s nothing compared with what’s been going on," he said.

As the United Nations prepares to reduce the size of its peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone, the situation on the Liberian side of the border still has the potential to spill over and threaten to disrupt Sierra Leone's fragile peace, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji told the BBC on Wednesday. "Already there have been large influx of Liberian refugees into Sierra Leone, and with a large number of refugees coming in it really becomes difficult to separate those who are genuine refugees and those who are slipping in with the refugees but who are really not genuine refugees to come and cause trouble," said Adeniji, who is the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General in Sierra Leone. Adeniji also noted reports that a number of rebel combatants who fled to Liberia with former RUF battlefield commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie at the end of 1999 "are still very active on the Liberian side, and there is the danger and there is the constant report that they are preparing to launch another attack on Sierra Leone." He said estimates of the number of RUF combatants in Liberia ranged from 300 to 400 – roughly the same number who crossed into Sierra Leone with Foday Sankoh in 1991 to ignite Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war. "But as they went along of course they recruited a lot of jobless young men, some who gave their services voluntarily, others who were forcibly recruited," he said. "And LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) is already doing the same thing now in Sierra Leone. They have been crossing over to the neighbouring villages and not only pillaging those villages but abducting able-bodied men across with them into Liberia, obviously to force them to take their side." Adeniji said he believed the smaller UNAMSIL force would still be strong enough to contain any threat from Liberia. In the meantime, he added, the Sierra Leonean army was improving its capacity to defend Sierra Leone's borders. The ambassador acknowledged he had no specific evidence that RUF fighters in Liberia were planning to return to destabilise Sierra Leone, but he said the possibility had to be taken seriously. "The only evidence that one can say is available now is because of their activity in Liberia they’re still engaged in that conflict in Liberia," he said. "If that should be settled in a violent way, then of course here they would be without any jobs to do, and they may look across the border into their own country."

24 September: The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a resolution late Tuesday extending by six months the mandate of what will ultimately be a smaller U.N. peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone. Included in the new resolution is a provision to reduce the peacekeeping force by 4,500 troops within eight months from its current strength of about 17,000. Security Council members welcomed progress in the peace process, in particular the holding of elections and the launch of the Special Court and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but they emphasised in their resolution the importance of establishing government control over the country's diamond areas, the re-integration of ex-combatants, the return of refugees, and respect for human rights and the rule of law. The Council also stressed the need to further strengthen the capacity of Sierra Leone's police and armed forces to enable them to maintain security and stability independently of the U.N. peacekeeping force.

Loyalist troops and rebel soldiers fought street battles in Ivory Coast's second city of Bouake Tuesday, where a number of Sierra Leonean nationals, including the country's football team, remain trapped for a sixth day by the violence. "The fighting started in the eastern suburbs and then moved toward the central market, but there is gunfire coming from all around," a foreigner told the Reuters news agency. Sierra Leone's Youth and Sports Minister, Dr. Dennis Bright, told the Sierra Leone Web the team had reported hearing sporadic gunfire in the area near their hotel between 2:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon, but that it had later died down. "They say they are not being harassed by anybody really, but there is this fear, and they are confined to their rooms," he said. "The only thing is that the conditions are getting harder on them because they can’t move out." Meanwhile, both France and the United States have sent troops to Ivory Coast to evacuate foreign nationals. 18 Sierra Leonean football players and seven team officials were in Bouake to compete for the WAFU Cup. Bright said a Sierra Leonean doctor in the Ivory Coast for a conference was also among those trapped at the hotel. A handful of Sierra Leonean nationals, most of them long-term residents, live and work in the town.

The UNHCR is assisting 200 refugees, most of them Sierra Leoneans and Liberians, who were made homeless last week when security forces in Ivory Coast's commercial capital Abidjan burned their houses after blaming them for supporting the military uprising against the government. A UNHCR spokesman said the refugees gathered on Saturday and again Sunday in front of the agency's office to seek assistance. All reported that their homes in Abidjan's Adjamé District had been burned. The UNHCR is offering the refugees temporary secure shelter and food, some of it donated by local residents. Meanwhile, the UNHCR said it was sending teams from CARITAS and the IOM to talk to the refugees about the option of returning to their home countries.

The chief prosecutor for Sierra Leone's Special Court will travel with a team of investigators to Sierra Leone's eastern Kono District this week to inspect a suspected mass grave site, and to meet with ex-combatants and victims of Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war. The trip will be David Crane's first to Sierra Leone's interior since he took up his post in August. In a public meeting scheduled to take place Thursday in Koidu, Crane will explain the court's mandate to prosecute only those who bear the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed during the war, and will urge residents to come forward with testimony or evidence which could shed light on the court's investigations. 

Sierra Leonean scholar Dr. Abdul B. Kamara has become the first Sierra Leonean and just the fourth African to win Germany's prestigious Josef G. Knoll Science Award for his dissertation, "Property Rights, Risk and Livestock Development in Southern Ethiopia." The graduate award, which was initiated in 1986 and is conferred annually by Germany's Eiselen Foundation Ulm, was in recognition of Kamara's contributions to science in the area of food security in developing countries. Kamara told the Sierra Leone Web that Sierra Leone's civil war precluded his doing field research in his own country, and so he turned his attention instead toward Ethiopia. But he noted that, in principle, his research could have applicability to parts of Sierra Leone, especially in the Northern Province where a huge potential for crop-livestock integration remains largely untapped. Kamara said his study focused on how national policies could combine with environmental variables and market incentives to improve local cooperation in resource management. "The research findings are quite applicable to similar ecological and socio-economic settings in Africa, where crops and livestock compete for scarce land resources," he said. "In Sierra Leone, the recommendations may find a useful application in parts of the Northern Province where a huge potential for the integration of livestock in cropping systems is still unexploited." Kamara was born in Tambiama north of Makeni, but grew up in Bo. He attended the Bo School and Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone, and received his advanced degrees from the University of Hohenheim and the University of Goettingen in Germany. He currently works with the International Water Management Institute in Pretoria, South Africa.

23 September: French troops moved toward Ivory Coast's second city of Bouake Monday, where they will be poised to evacuate foreign nationals trapped in the rebel-held town, the Reuters news agency reported. Among those cut off by the violence which followed a military uprising on Thursday are a number of Sierra Leoneans, including the country's football team which was in the city to compete for the WAFU Cup. Team captain Hassan Sesay told the BBC that conditions were deteriorating for players, who have been confined in their hotel since the violence began. "We are running out of food, out of water," he said. "We don’t know what is going to happen. For the past five days we are [trapped], we can’t move around. We just stay in room to room. (It is) affecting us because we don’t have any [thing] here, just swimming pools, but we can’t swim because we are not happy. We can’t do anything."

The managing editor of the Sierra Leone News Agency, Abdul Karim Jalloh, died in a road accident Sunday after the car in which he was riding suffered a punctured tire about twelve miles from Makeni, causing it to swerve off the highway and hit a tree. Also killed was Sheik Abubakarr Jalloh, principal of Ansarul Islamic College in Freetown and president of the Sierra Leone Missionaries' Society. Funeral services for the two men were scheduled for Monday afternoon at the Ansarul Islamic College compound. Abdul Karim Jalloh joined the Sierra Leone News Agency in 1988, after having previously worked for Government Information Services, News Director Sahr M'bayo said.

22 September: Government forces in Ivory Coast have launched a major attack against rebel soldiers holding the city of Bouake, where football teams from Sierra Leone, Senegal and Gambia who were in the town to compete for the WAFU Cup have been confined to their hotel since the violence broke out on Thursday, the Reuters news agency reported. The players are now facing a severe shortage of food and water, according to a report by the BBC. Hotel authorities were quoted as saying there was little they could do about the situation. As many as 800 dissident soldiers took up arms against the Ivorian government last week, angered about being expelled from the army. Earlier, the Associated Press reported that Bouake was in a state of confusion after gunfire was heard overnight. Thousands of anti-government demonstrators took to the city's streets at the weekend in support of the rebel soldiers, calling for them to continue on and oust the government of President Laurent Gbagbo. 

21 September: Caterpillars moved in Saturday morning to begin demolishing some 70 homes and buildings after Sierra Leone's High Court ruled that they had been erected illegally on land belonging to the Sierra Leone Grammar School. As police stood by, heavy equipment operators began by knocking down the rented offices of War Child, an international non-governmental organisation which provides humanitarian assistance to war-affected children. "War Child was the first that was demolished, and two caterpillars had to engage it in order for it to be demolished in an unrepairable state," Awoko newspaper reporter Tamba Borbor told the Sierra Leone Web. Also destroyed by mid-afternoon was a newly-built yellow house which, together with an adjacent unfinished three story building, was said by its owner to be valued at $200,000, and about five "pan body" shacks. "The tradition here is that people build pan bodies before they erect their actual buildings," Borbor said. The reporter said an estimated 100 to 150 residents put up some resistance early Saturday morning, but gave it up after police moved in with tear gas and anti-riot gear. "There was a stone battle," he said. "People who resided in the houses being demolished started stoning the police, and we as reporters were in the thick of the battle and we had to hide behind fences and things like that for us not to be hurt." He said it took about 20 minutes for the police to disperse the crowd. The demolition was interrupted for a time after one of the caterpillar tires exploded and a spare had to be sent for, but it later resumed. Awoko editor Kelvin Lewis (pictured left), who was likewise on the scene, described the police as "very, very restrained."  "They were there only to prevent any violence," he said. "They didn’t take part in the demolition as Grammar School had rented out some heavy equipment – tractors and that sort of thing. Some people were arrested because they wanted to take some of the things away and they were not supposed to. There was some stoning, but it was quickly quelled down. There was no real violence as such, only those who were arrested, some of them were roughed up." The demolition is expected to continue on Sunday "until they’ve broken all of (the houses) down," Lewis said. Radio 98.1 reporter Beresford Taylor said a private orphanage housing about 50 children on the compound had been evacuated, and that the whereabouts of the orphans was unknown. He said it was not yet clear when or if the building would be torn down. An eyewitness said late Saturday that police had been deployed to protect the Grammar School compound. He described the scene outside as resembling a displaced camp, with residents leaving their homes carrying their possessions on their heads. "Some (are) going to Murray Town, some to Aberdeen. It's pathetic," he said.

There was an uneasy calm in the central Ivorian town of Bouake Saturday morning, where Sierra Leone's football team is among three West African squads holed up in their hotel and now reported to be running short of food since army mutineers seized the city on Thursday. The teams were in Ivory Coast to compete in the WAFU Nations Cup, which has now been cancelled. Officials and players have expressed concern about their safety, as mutineers have been entering the hotel at will. Sierra Leonean coach Obi Sam Metzger told the BBC that they wanted the West African Football Union to help them return home as quickly as possible. "My boys have lost concentration, all their focus now is to return back home safely," he said, adding: "This situation has disturbed my plans for the Nations Cup qualifying match against Gabon in October." Earlier Saturday, a source in Bouake told the Sierra Leone Web that the town was experiencing relative calm. "At the present time it is quiet here, though there were bigger guns shooting intermittently through the night from about 1:00 am, and some heavier firing after daybreak," he said. The Reuters news agency reported that rebel soldiers had seized weapons from a store in Bouake and armed local youths, and that they were headed for the capital Yamoussoukro, 66 miles to the south. Meanwhile, witnesses in Abidjan told the Associated Press they saw twelve truckloads of soldiers heading toward Yamoussoukro, where loyalist troops have been massing since Friday. It was not clear whether they were also headed toward Bouake, which the government has vowed to wrest from rebel control. The news agency reported that what had begun on Thursday as a mutiny by soldiers who were angered at being forced to retire from the army was suddenly beginning to reflect the political, religions and ethnic tensions which tore the country apart two years ago. In Abidjan, police and soldiers set fire to shantytowns housing Burkinabe immigrant workers, many of whom had fled wars in their own countries or had come to the Ivory Coast to find work. "I’m afraid that Abidjan is aflame," said BBC correspondent Kate Davenport. "Many parts of the town have been torched by overzealous military forces trying to make a crackdown in response to this apparent attempted coup and there are a lot of refugees who are being affected, including Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees who fled here years ago from neighbouring countries hoping that things would be safer here." Davenport said Sierra Leonean refugees told her they had been forced to flee from their homes Saturday as security forces moved in to burn down the wooden shantytowns where they lived.

20 September: President Kabbah appealed to the international community Friday to remain engaged in the West African sub-region, saying that regional instability continues to pose a threat to international security and could endanger Sierra Leone's hard-won peace. "It would be a terrible mistake if, by sheer complacency and the failure to adopt the appropriate course of action, we allow the country to slip back into armed conflict," Kabbah said in an address before the United Nations General Assembly in New York. In his report to the Security Council this month, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan laid out a timetable for reducing the size of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone which, with about 17,000 troops, is currently the world's largest. Kabbah urged that any adjustment in the force's size should be linked to progress in a number of areas, including improvement in the capacity of Sierra Leone's military and police force to take over security functions, the re-integration of ex-combatants, along with the concern that new fighting in Liberia could spill over into Sierra Leone. Kabbah pointed to what he said was "the apparent absence of a strategic plan by the international community to address the situation in Liberia," and the delay by the international community in responding to a request by ECOWAS to ensure security along the borders of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

18 Sierra Leonean football players and seven officials trapped by fighting in Ivory Coast's second city of Bouake are "safe and well," Youth and Sports Minister Dr. Dennis Bright told the Sierra Leone Web on Friday. The Sierra Leonean team was one of three which had arrived in the Ivory Coast to play for the WAFU Cup, a West African tournament which gives locally-based players a chance to face international competition and to showcase their talents. The team dropped its opening game to Senegal 0-1 and was scheduled to play against Ivory Coast on Friday. The tournament was suspended and the players players have been trapped in their hotel since early Thursday, when mutinous soldiers mounted a violent attempt to seize control of the country. Loyalist troops regained control of the commercial capital Abidjan after a day of bloody street battles, but Bouake and the northern city of Korhogo remained in the hands of rebel hands on Friday. According to the Reuters news agency, the sound of small arms and mortar fire had died down in Bouake by mid-morning but resumed in the mid-afternoon after a government deadline for the rebels' surrender had expired. Earlier, a source in the town told the Sierra Leone Web there were some reports that the Bouake market had reopened, while others indicated that the soldiers were sending people home. Early Friday, the government announced a 3:00 p.m. deadline for the rebel soldiers holding Bouake to give up or face an all-out assault which it said was being readied in Abidjan. "The town of Bouake will be cleaned up before nightfall," Defence Minister Moise Lida Kouassi said on state television. A rebel commander in Bouake rejected the threat. "There will be no negotiations," he told Reuters. "If there is another assault on Bouake it will be met with full force and could become a bloodbath." Bright noted that the rebel soldiers had abducted the Ivorian sports minister, and he expressed concern for the Sierra Leonean athletes should the government move against the mutineers. "Under pressure from government forces, our experience shows that they can get very jittery and start looking for bargaining chips and human hostages or something, and we don’t want things to develop to that level," he said.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $25 million disbursement to Sierra Leone Thursday following the second review of the country's performance under the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) arrangement, which ties low-interest loans to progress in implementing programmes which foster growth and reduce poverty. Since the PRGF agreement was improved in September 2001, Sierra Leone has drawn about $74 million under the arrangement. PGRF loans carry an annual interest rate of 0.5 percent repayable over ten years, with a 5½ grace period on principal payments. In a statement, IMF Deputy Managing Director Eduardo Aninat lauded the Sierra Leone government for its progress in implementing economic reforms despite what he said were major financial and institutional constraints, and for its success in advancing the peace process. Aninat said that while government policies for 2002-03 were appropriately geared toward addressing pressing postwar social problems and rebuilding the country's shattered social and economic infrastructure, that given the enormous potential demands on the Sierra Leone's limited budgetary resources "it will be critically important to boost government revenue, prioritize public expenditures, and maintain fiscal discipline." He also warned that the government would need to accelerate the pace of structural reforms and to adopt measures designed to strengthen investor confidence and develop the private sector. "Sierra Leone will continue to require substantial financial and technical support from the international community to consolidate peace and to address the daunting challenges in the period ahead, including the resettlement of the displaced population and the reconstruction of the economy," Aninat said.

19 September: Football teams from Sierra Leone, Senegal and the Gambia were trapped in their hotel Thursday as mutinying soldiers seized control of the central Ivorian town of Bouake, the BBC reported. The teams were in the Ivory Coast for the West African Football Union's WAFU Cup competition. The tournament, which was to have been a showcase for Ivory Coast's bid to host the 2006 African Nations Cup, was immediately cancelled. "All the delegations are in the hotel and no one can go out," West African Football Union President Aka Malan said. He confirmed reports that rebellious soldiers had kidnapped Ivorian Sports Minister Francois Albert Amichai. Malan said it was too early to say when the tournament could be rescheduled. "We will wait and see how things improve," he said.

18 September: RUF leader Foday Sankoh failed to appear for his trial on Wednesday, and Freetown's High Court was told that the ailing rebel leader was being treated for an unspecified illness at the prison hospital. Sankoh and his RUF co-defendants – now numbering more than 60 – each face a 70-count indictment for murder, attempted murder and related charges stemming from the May 2000 shooting of demonstrators outside Sankoh's Freetown residence. The court was also told that one of the RUF defendants, 31-year old Osman Conteh, died on August 27 while in custody, the Associated Press reported. A death certificate introduced in court gave the cause of death as "psychosis." Court officials would not elaborate. The trial was adjourned until October 8 after the government's prosecutor asked for a two-week adjournment to prepare and also to enable Sankoh to be brought to court for formal identification, the BBC reported.

President Kabbah is expected to meet with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and several members of the United Nations Security Council during his four-day visit to the United States this week, a diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web. The president is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly on Friday. Also on the agenda is a meeting on trade and development relations with the New Jersey Commerce and Economic Growth Commission.

The United Nations Security Council discussed the situation in Sierra Leone and the secretary-general's latest report on the U.N. Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) Wednesday, Council President Stefan Tafrov of Bulgaria said in a statement. Council members noted the challenges in consolidating peace and stability in Sierra Leone and the need to strengthen the security sector, and agreed that the international community should take advantage of the presence of the U.N. peacekeeping force to make progress. They also took note of the secretary-general's proposals for changes to UNAMSIL's size and composition and said they would respond to the suggestions in a resolution renewing UNAMSIL's mandate. Members of the Council also called on the international community to continue providing financial assistance to Sierra Leone.

17 September: Sierra Leone ranks 134th of 140 countries in contribution of foreign investors in its Gross Domestic Product, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development said on Tuesday. The analysis was based on statistics taken from 1998 to 2000, during the height of Sierra Leone's civil war. It compares to a UNCTD ranking of 55th a decade ago.

Liberia's foreign minister has repeated his government's position that with the end of the war in Sierra Leone the United Nations should lift sanctions against his country. Monie Captan made the remarks as the United Nations announced the formation of an "International Contact Group" to help Liberia move toward peace and reconciliation. Captan said the sanctions, which include a travel ban on senior government officials, an arms embargo and a prohibition on the sale of diamonds, had been imposed because his government was fueling the war in Sierra Leone through its support of Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. "There is no war in Sierra Leone," he told the Reuters news agency. "We have an embassy (in Freetown). They have an embassy in Liberia. There is no more conflict. The resolution states that once that happened, they would lift the sanctions. We want to move forward." The United Nations Security Council is due to review the sanctions in November. Captan welcomed the formation of the contact group, which includes representatives of the United States, Britain, France, Morocco, Senegal, ECOWAS, the African Union and the European Union, calling it a step in the right direction to ending the conflict in his country. "In the past the U.N. dealt with us harshly, but now they seem to be taking a different approach," he told the Associated Press.

16 September: A Sierra Leonean graduate student, Abdul Rahman Bah, has become the first foreigner to take first prize in the Japanese Foreign Ministry's International Co-operation Thesis Contest since the competition was opened to overseas students this year. Previously only students studying in Japan were allowed to take part, and entries had to be submitted in Japanese. Bah, who is a Ph.D candidate at the Universiti Putra Malaysia, wrote his thesis on "the Phosphorus of Dynamics in Tropical Soil Amended with Green Manures and Natural Inorganic Phosphate Fertilisers" – a topic, he notes, which has direct relevance to Sierra Leone, where crop yields are severely depressed by acid soil infertility, phosphorus deficiency, and the high cost and unavailability of manufactured fertilisers. "This is exacerbated by the dire economic conditions of our farmers and the possible harmful effects on environmental quality when high analysis fertilizers are used in our climatic conditions," Bah told the Sierra Leone Web. Bah said the two legume green manures he used in his research, Calopogonium and Gliricidia, are easily available in Sierra Leone, while the rock which is a source of natural inorganic phosphate is much cheaper than manufactured fertilisers. He found, however, that using the phosphate rock alone had limited effectiveness due to the immobilisation of the released phosphate. "However, integrating the two materials resulted in increased nitrogen supply and higher phosphorus status of the soil," he said. "The decomposing legume green manures released nitrogen as well as organic acids which increased the release of phosphorus from the phosphate rocks and prevented its fixation in the soil." More research still needs to be done to evaluate the materials on farmers' fields, including the economics of application – especially labour and environmental costs. Bah attended Albert Academy in Freetown and holds degrees from Fourah Bay College and Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands. 

14 September: 232 soldiers who have reached age 55 will be retired from the army in December, Deputy Defence Minister Joe C. Blell told the Sierra Leone Web on Saturday. Blell noted that 55 is the military's mandatory retirement age, and he said that those being let go had received a year's notice. "The military after the war has to be downsized from a figure of 15,000 to a little over 10,000 and we are starting with those who have reached the age of 55," Blell said. Those being retired include one colonel, three lieutenant-colonels, nine majors, 14 captains, three lieutenants, 33 warrant officers first class, 27 warrant officers second class, 33 staff sergeants, 52 sergeants, 19 corporals, 12 lance corporals and 25 privates.

13 September: Elections of traditional leaders to fill vacant paramount chief posts in 63 of Sierra Leone's 149 chiefdoms will begin in October, and are scheduled to run through November 15, National Electoral Commissioner Walter Nicol (pictured left) told the Sierra Leone Web on Friday. Nicol said the Declaration of Rights process, which determines whether a candidate belongs to a ruling house and is eligible to stand, and the compilation of chiefdom electors lists, is supposed to be complete by the end of this month.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed 104 tons of food over the past two weeks to over 18,500 refugees, internally displaced persons and returnees in Sierra Leone, the agency said on Friday. Among those who received food were 450 Liberian refugees who were relocated away from the volatile border area to camps in Kenema and Bo Districts, 564 Sierra Leoneans who were returned by air and by sea from Nigeria and Liberia, and 700 returnees who crossed from Liberia into Kailahun District. During the same period, the WFP organised assistance to families who were left homeless by floods in Bo and Moyamba Districts. In Guinea, the agency said it was helping 6,560 Sierra Leonean refugees at Dabola, and in Liberia the WFP is helping Sierra Leonean refugees and Liberians who have been displaced by fighting between government forces and rebels of the group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).

12 September: Citing "steady and remarkable progress" in Sierra Leone's security situation, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has recommended that the U.N. begin reducing the size of its peacekeeping contingent in the country – currently the world's largest at about 17,000 troops – to around 5,000 by late 2004 and to 2,000 or so thereafter, depending on the situation on the ground. In the first phase of withdrawal, 600 troops "who are no longer operationally essential" would be cut by the end of the year. The second phase, which could begin as early as January and would run through August 2003, the force would be reduced to 13,000 soldiers. The remaining troops would be deployed around key provincial towns, near lines of communication, around the country's main diamond mining areas, and along the volatile Liberian border. The third phase would see a reduction of troops to 5,000 by the end of 2004, and a further reduction to 2,000 in the final phase. The recommendations were made in Annan's latest report to the Security Council in advance of a September 30 deadline on whether to extend UNAMSIL's mandate in Sierra Leone. In the report, Annan also said the U.N. should reduce its civilian presence in the country, but he suggested a tripling in the size of the civilian police force to 185 officers who would stay on to help train Sierra Leone's police force. The withdrawal of U.N. peacekeepers would be accompanied, he said, by a gradual, phased and deliberate transfer of responsibility for security from the U.N. Mission to the government. "The beginning of the drawdown of UNAMSIL will take the Mission into the final phase of the United Nations peacekeeping operation in Sierra Leone, which is recognizably one of the most difficult aspects of such operations," Annan said in recommending that the Security Council approve an additional six-month extension of UNAMSIL's mandate. "Its outcome will be critical in determining whether the efforts of the international community in the country over the past few years can be considered a durable success." Meanwhile, Annan expressed concern over the conflict in neighbouring Liberia which, he warned, if allowed to escalate could jeopardize the progress made in Sierra Leone and destabilise the Mano River sub-region. "A possible prolonged stalemate in the conflict would have equally tragic consequences for the people of Liberia."

Security ministers from the Mano River Union nations of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia met in Freetown this week in an effort to further peace-building initiatives agreed at a heads of state meeting last April in Morocco, the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported. The ministers, who ended their two-day meeting on Wednesday, agreed to send a "peace caravan" of some 20 high-level officials to tour their common borders in December as a "confidence-building measure" meant to symbolise "the formal re-opening of borders that had remained closed due to wars and impeded free movement of people and trade," an official was quoted as saying. The meeting also addressed the deployment of cross-border security guards, the matter of dissidents operating within the borders of the three countries, and the plight of refugees in the sub-region. It was agreed that the refugees, especially Liberians living in Sierra Leone and Guinea, should be "given better treatment," a Sierra Leonean official said. Sierra Leone's delegation was headed by Interior Minister Sam Hinga Norman (pictured right). Guinea sent four ministers led by Justice Minister Abou Camara, while the Liberian delegation included Justice Minister Laveli Korboi Johnson and Defence Minister Daniel Chea.

11 September: The Sierra Leone government has dismissed a July report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) which warned that the problems with governance and official corruption which contributed to igniting ten years of civil war remain largely unresolved, and could threaten the country's fragile peace. The ICG was especially critical of the government's handling of last May's presidential and parliamentary elections, and faulted President Kabbah for failing to reach out to opposition parties after the election to form a broad-based and inclusive government designed to promote national reconciliation. In a response issued this week by presidential spokesman Kanji Daramy, the government said the ICG report seemed to be biased in favour of the opposition, and it questioned whether the group was impartial. "Their interaction with the government and its officials is very minimal, if it exists at all, and they tend to nurture a very visible relationship with opposition parties, media outfits and other groups that are ostensibly not sympathetic to government," the statement said. ICG Country Director Comfort Ero told the Sierra Leone Web on Wednesday that the group would have no public reaction to the government statement.

A Sierra Leonean court has sentenced a 70-year old man to death for the ritual murder of a seven year old boy, in which the victim's heart and other organs were removed, the Reuters news agency reported on Wednesday. "Ritual murder in Sierra Leone is becoming rampant," Judge Olu Ademusu said in pronouncing the sentence on Alhaji Bockarie Kallon. He said a number of other cases of ritual murder were being investigated.

Diplomats, government leaders, United Nations officials and representatives of civil society groups gathered at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown Wednesday for a short ceremony to remember the victims last year's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. Among the more than 3,000 persons killed in the attacks was Sierra Leonean schoolteacher Hilda E. Taylor, who died when her plane was hijacked and deliberately crashed into the Pentagon. Taylor, two of her fellow teachers, and three young students from the M.V. Leckie Elementary School, were on their way to California on an educational field trip.

47 would-be immigrants from Sierra Leone, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Iran and Nigeria were detained by Turkish authorities after they were found near the Greek border without passports, the Reuters news agency reported.

10 September: Sierra Leone's amputees say they will not cooperate with the country's Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) until their list of demands is met, despite a meeting last week between Amputee Association leaders and President Kabbah which led to initial reports that they had lifted their boycott threat. "We are not going to participate until the resolutions being put forward to His Excellency President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah are being addressed properly before ever we could participate in the TRC. That I can assure you," War Affected Amputees Association chairman Lamin Jusu Jarka told the Sierra Leone Web on Tuesday. "(Kabbah) was pleading for us to participate in the TRC (but) he could not come out with any positive response in respect of the resolution that we gave to him. So we still stand by our word, to see that this resolution is being implemented." Jarka, who was Chief Security Officer for Barclay's Bank before having both his arms hacked off during the January 1999 rebel invasion of Freetown, said his association wanted a bag of rice and Le 200,000 (about $100) to be given to each amputee at the end of every month, and he said amputees should receive the same Le 300,000 reintegration allowance given to ex-combatants. Jarka said the amputees were also asking for free education for their children and free health care for themselves. "We must be given a classification paper to show anywhere in the provinces where we might reintegrate in our communities to make sure that we go to the hospital and then our situation is being addressed and we are being given medical attention," he said. Jarka said the Amputees Association also wanted the government to supply its leaders with an office and a vehicle so that they could better coordinate amputees' affairs. "If at all these things are not being implemented, we are not ready to face in the TRC," he said. "If they could see any other amputees at the TRC, it might be to say the Kamajors or the Kapras or the ex-combatants as well. But we, the amputees residing at the Murray Town Amputee Camp here, will not participate in the TRC until our resolutions being put before His Excellency President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah are being fulfilled." Jarka insisted that the boycott would not be limited to those amputees living in the Murray Town camp. "(This decision) is being patterned to other various colleagues who are in the provinces to make sure this is the line of action that we have already taken," he said. Meanwhile, TRC Chairman Bishop Humper (pictured right) said Tuesday he felt the amputees' concerns were generally legitimate, but he expressed hope that sooner or later they would come to realise that it was in their own interest to participate in the truth and reconciliation process. Humper told the Sierra Leone Web that the amputees appeared to be viewing the TRC in a political context "that politicians make promises and never fulfil them" rather than as a traditional mediation mechanism. And, he said, they were not alone. "Just as other members of the society have not yet come to appreciate the significance of TRC, so also these people have not come to clearly understand and appreciate what the TRC stands for," he said. "If they really understood it quite clearly, they would have come to TRC to cooperate with TRC to establish a record and make appropriate recommendations." Humper said he hoped the boycott threat would be only a temporary setback, and he stressed that the commission was committed to looking into most of the amputees' concerns, especially in the context of a victims'  fund which was mandated by the 1999 Lomé Peace Accord but up to now has not been set up. "I would think that again we are afforded the opportunity to look not only at the amputees but the other sectors of society who are still apprehensive about the importance of TRC in this country," he said. "I don’t think that they perceive it as an institution that is promoting the interests of any sector of the community. But I see that they look at it as a vehicle where can express their views and be able to be heard."

President Kabbah has written to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan suggesting that in light of work still to be done, the U.N. peacekeeping force not begin pulling out of Sierra Leone until at least January. UNAMSIL's current mandate is due to expire on September 30. In the letter, which was dated August 8 and made public in Freetown this week, Kabbah urged that any decision the force's downsizing take into account a number of factors, including the need to restructure, train and equip Sierra Leone's own security forces, the ongoing reintegration of ex-combatants, the need for tightened security during the proceedings of the Special Court, and the current instability in Liberia which threatens to spill over into Sierra Leone. Kabbah wrote that his government was concerned about a possible premature withdrawal of peacekeepers from the country, and recalled "with deep regret the events that followed the premature withdrawal of ECOMOG from Sierra Leone before the deployment of an adequate number of UNAMSIL contingents."

9 September: Vice President Solomon Berewa formally opened newly rehabilitated Magistrate's Courts in the northern towns of Makeni and Magburaka Saturday, at a ceremony which included government and United Nations officials and representatives of donor government and non-governmental organisations. The court in Makeni will sit on Monday for the first time in more than ten years. According to a UNAMSIL statement, Berewa (pictured right) pledged his government would ensure that the judiciary functioned properly. "Without a properly functioning judiciary, everything will collapse," he warned, adding that without justice the objectives of eliminating corruption and bringing about good governance could not be realized. Chief Justice Abdulai Timbo (left) pointed out that a lack of funds was the main impediment to properly functioning courts. He said that Justices of the Peace would soon be established in each district to complement the work of the country's judiciary.  

8 September:  Sierra Leone defeated Equatorial Guinea 3-1 Sunday in their first African Nations Cup qualifying match at Malabo. Scoring for the Leone Stars were Kewalay Conteh (38th minute), Muwahid Sesay (45th minute) and Sidique Mansaray (68th minute). Equatorial Guinea escaped a shutout when Lino Makuba scored in the 81st minute of the match. The Leone Stars' next contest will be on October 12 against Gabon. Other weekend results: (Group One) Angola 0, Nigeria 0. (Group Two) Niger 3, Ethiopia 1; Guinea 3, Liberia 0. (Group Three) Benin 4, Tanzania 0; Sudan 0, Zambia 1. (Group Four) Congo 0, Burkina Faso 0. (Group Five) Kenya 3, Togo 0; Cape Verde 2, Mauritania 0. (Group Six) Zimbabwe 1, Mali 0; Seychelles 1, Eritrea 0. (Group Seven) Gabon 0, Morocco 1. (Group Eight) Lesotho 0, Senegal 1. (Group Nine) Botswana 0, Swaziland 0; Libya 3, Democratic Republic of Congo 2. (Group Ten) Madagascar 1, Egypt 0. (Group Eleven) Ivory Coast 0, South Africa 0. (Group Twelve) Namibia 0, Algeria 1. (Group Thirteen) Uganda 1, Ghana 0.

6 September: The Japanese government announced Friday that its Ambassador to Ghana, Ghana Kazuko Asai, will also now be accredited as Japan's envoy to Sierra Leone, the Kyodo News Agency reported.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2050 / 2250. [£] 3000 / 3250. Commercial Bank: [$] 2100 / 2300. [£] 3050 / 3250. Frandia: [$] 2100 / 2250 [£] 2700 / 2950. Continental: [$] 2150 / 2300 [£] 3050 / 3350. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2150 / 2200 [£] 3150 / 3300.

5 September: 56,074 ex-combatants have registered to take part in reintegration programmes sponsored by the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation, and Reintegration (NCDDR) out of the nearly 70,000 persons who have handed in their weapons since the agency began its work in 1998, NCDDR Executive Secretary Dr. Francis Kai-Kai told the Sierra Leone Web. He added that others who disarmed rejoined the army and thus were not eligible for reintegration benefits. "We look for alternatives for them in various fields – in education, in agriculture, apprenticeship training, public works, vocational skills training and so on," Kai-Kai said. "Now of these, I would say we’ve handled up to 32,000 already. We’ve got a little over 20,000 to handle in the reintegration programme." In the third phase of the disarmament programme which began in May of last year and ended this past January, 47,781 former combatants disarmed – nearly twice the number of people Sierra Leone's warring groups estimated they had under arms, and far higher than the 28,000 projection that the NCDDR had been using for planning purposes. "With the best of screening and everything, that’s what we achieved, and it’s obviously more than the projected figure which they gave to us," he said. "So now we are forced to live with that figure, and it has affected us greatly in terms of fund-raising and so on." Kai-Kai said the discrepancy was mostly due to the fact that the militias "were only guessing" and clearly did not know the numbers of their followers. He acknowledged that the total was inflated by some non-combatants who managed to get through UNAMSIL's screening process to obtain benefits they were not entitled to, but he said the overall numbers appeared to be small – perhaps only 1,000 or so. "But the point is, a lot of these people were involved in the war," he said. "In fact, a lot of agencies coming now to interview us and look at the way we did it, some are a bit critical. They thought we should have included more women, especially women who were following the ex-combatants – their bush wives and so on, and some of their bush children and those kinds of things. But we found it very difficult to justify that because we only wanted to be sure that we targeted actual fighters and not these other followers." Kai-Kai said that all of the former combatants had received their reinsertion benefits of Le 300,000 (about $150) by last April, meant to tide them over until reintegration programmes could be set up. One of the areas where the NCDDR faces particular challenges in providing reintegration services is the long-time rebel stronghold of Kailahun District, where the infrastructure was almost completely destroyed. Agencies have been reluctant to locate there because of its close proximity to the volatile Liberian border, where renewed fighting between Liberian government troops and rebels, cross-border incursions, abductions, and an influx of refugees have raised new concerns over the areas security. Kai-Kai said he recently visited Kailahun to assure the ex-combatants that they had not been forgotten. "It’s a depressed area," he said. "They destroyed everything, and now we were even saying that we should go find a way to develop some stop-gap projects which will help engage them for a month or two so that they can earn some income out of those projects whilst we encourage people to go there to help set up training workshops, to do the schools again, so that some of them can be engaged once again." He said the NCDDR had reached a tentative agreement with the German group GTZ to establish a training centre in Kailahun town later this month, and a second centre in Buedu in October. The issue of former child combatants has been a thorny one as well. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that over 5,000 children fought on all sides during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war. With the end of the war, some in Sierra Leone voiced suspicions that the children had quietly been demobilised and sent home, and that their guns had been given to others to turn over in exchange for reinsertion benefits. But Kai-Kai played down these concerns. "Child combatants generally, they never really own their own weapons as such," he said. "They are always manipulated by adults. That’s very clear. Even during disarmament we saw this kind of manipulation." He stressed that the NCDDR's policy was to take all child combatants into the programme with or without guns. "We said they should come forward, because as long as they have been involved in war it’s better we try to target them so that somehow all these programmes available for children can also be applied to them and allow at least some detraumatization programmes to be used to help these children too, especially for their reintegration," he said. Kai-Kai noted that it was possible some of the children had failed to register with the NCDDR and simply returned home after the war. "It may well be the case that because the CDF were already in their own homes, in their own villages, in their own communities, that a good number of these children just melted into the community," he said. "They didn’t bother to come forward. It’s very possible. But since again we were running in a hectic programme, it was difficult to follow up on issues like this."

The United Nations Security Council's Liberia Sanctions Committee said Wednesday that Liberia had failed to provide a true account of how it spends revenues derived from its timber industry and international shipping registry. The council imposed sanctions on Liberia in 2001, including an arms embargo and a travel ban on senior officials, because of that government's alleged support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and for its involvement in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade. The council renewed the sanctions in May, and at the same time called for the creation of a credible accounting mechanism for the shipping registry and timber industry after allegations arose that funds had been diverted to arms purchases in violation of U.N. sanctions. A reconstituted U.N. Panel of Experts found significant discrepancies between ship registry financial data supplied by Liberia's Finance Ministry, its Central Bank, and its U.S.-based shipping registry agent, the Reuters news agency reported. The committee is due to recommend by November 7 whether the sanctions against Liberia should be renewed, revised or lifted.

Amputees at the Murray Town Amputee Camp have lifted their threat to boycott hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) following a meeting on Tuesday between President Kabbah and leaders of the Amputee Association, the BBC reported on Thursday. The amputees had expressed anger that while perpetrators of atrocities had been offered reinsertion benefits and reintegration programmes at the end of the country's civil war, their victims had received little assistance. Last week, the amputees threatened not to cooperate with the TRC until the government acceded to a number of demands, including better shelter, a lifetime stipend of cash and rice, free health care for themselves and free education for their children.

4 September: On Tuesday, former RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi said he was coordinating an NCDDR-sponsored agricultural reintegration project in his native Pujehun District designed to benefit 90 former rebel combatants.  But in an interview on Wednesday, the NCDDR's Executive Secretary, Dr. Francis Kai-Kai, told the Sierra Leone Web it wasn't true. Kai-Kai noted that the NCDDR (National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) had encouraged former RUF commanders to come forward with projects of their own, and that at least two had already done so – but not Massaquoi. "Clearly he has an opportunity to come forward like every other senior member of the RUF, but I’m yet waiting for his own project," Kai-Kai said.

The Sierra Leone government pledged Wednesday to focus more attention on the needs of the victims of Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war, the Associated Press reported, citing a government statement. The move followed a threat by amputees last week to boycott hearings by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a meeting on Tuesday between representatives of the amputees and President Kabbah. "What appears to be greater attention being paid to ex-combatants at the expense of their victims is in fact part of the peace process...We were paying the price of peace and the country now lives in peace. We can now focus more attention on the needs of amputees," the statement said. "The only way to bring the war to an end and achieve peace was to disarm the combatants, and this has been an expensive exercise which has cost the government and the international community dearly."

The first round of the African Nations Cup qualifiers gets underway this weekend, with Sierra Leone's Leone Stars playing their first match against Equatorial Guinea in Malabo. Other matches: (Group One) Angola v. Nigeria in Luanda. (Group Two) Guinea v. Liberia in Conakry, Niger v. Ethiopia in Niamey. (Group Three) Benin v. Tanzania in Cotonou, Sudan v. Zambia in Khartoum. (Group Four) Central African Republic v. Mozambique in Bangui, Congo v. Burkina Faso in Brazzaville. (Group Five) Mauritania v. Cape Verde in Nouakchott, Kenya v. Togo in Nairobi. (Group Six) Seychelles v. Eritrea in Victoria, Zimbabwe v. Mali in Harare. (Group Seven) Gabon v. Morocco in Libreville, Equatorial Guinea v. Sierra Leone in Malabo. (Group Eight) Lesotho v. Senegal in Maseru. (Group Nine) Botswana v. Swaziland in Gaborone, Libya v. Democratic Republic of Congo in Benghazi. (Group Ten) Madagascar v. Egypt in Antananarivo. (Group Eleven) Ivory Coast v. South Africa in Abidjan. (Group Twelve) Namibia v. Algeria in Windhoek. (Group Thirteen) Uganda v. Ghana in Kampala.

Residents of the former RUF headquarters town of Makeni removed a large portrait of RUF leader Foday Sankoh Sunday from their city's main roundabout "without the slightest complaint on the part of the RUFP," Makeni Bishop George Biguzzi told the Sierra Leone Web late Tuesday.

3 September: Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) will push back the start date for hearings to November because of a lack of funds, an official told the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) on Tuesday. [Note: TRC Chairman Bishop Joseph Humper subsequently issued a correction, telling the Sierra Leone Web that the operational phase of the TRC would begin on October 5.] In the face of a poor donor response from the international community, TRC commissioners last month proposed a budget of about $6 million, down from the nearly $10 million which had been suggested earlier. "The new budget was last month submitted to the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. There are indications that it will be approved," Yebu Bangura told IRIN. "Soon there should be some money in the kitty. The commissioners will then identify centres for the hearings to start in November." On Friday, TRC Executive Secretary Yasmin Jusu-Sheriff told the Sierra Leone Web that plans to begin the hearings in October were uncertain because of a lack of money.

Sierra Leone's former rebel spokesman has traded in his gun for farm tools, and is now coordinating a government-sponsored agricultural programme to reintegrate 90 ex-combatants in his native Pujehun, he said on Tuesday. Gibril Massaquoi broke with RUF interim leader Issa Sesay in October 2001 after the often-stormy relationship between the two men boiled over into an angry confrontation and Massaquoi's sacking as the group's spokesman. Two months later, he quietly left the rebel movement. "(It's) not that I resigned from the organization, because I did not write any application to join the organization," he told the Sierra Leone Web. "Therefore there’s no need for me to write any letter to anybody resign, but I just decided to distance myself." Massaquoi also abandoned his plans to seek election to parliament in his native Pujehun District because, he said, the RUF Party lacked unity and its members "were not serious to the political situation." And when RUF Party leaders included his name on their parliamentary list, Massaquoi wrote a letter to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) demanding that it be removed. "I wrote back to NEC that it was without my consent and that I did not even register as a voter and therefore I’m not eligible," he said. "Nobody came to me to inform me that I was a parliamentary candidate, so there is no need for anybody to write my name." He denied reports, however, that he had jumped from the RUFP to the ruling SLPP, saying he is not associated with any political party or movement. Massaquoi, who a year ago steadfastly defended the RUF against charges of atrocities, now acknowledges that the rebel group committed abuses during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war, but he says other groups did as well. He also suggests that many of the atrocities committed by other groups were wrongly attributed to the RUF. "Somebody could not just put the whole blame on the RUF alone, because a lot of other organizations, especially non-governmental organizations, have a record of various atrocities committed by various parties," he said. Massaquoi recalled the RUF's chaotic early days, when fighting broke out between rival factions shortly after Foday Sankoh launched his rebellion in the east of the country. "Everybody who was in Kailahun knows that within the RUF there were various problems, infighting between one group and the other – those that were with Sankoh and those that were with Rashid Mansaray," he said. "And during this process some people were killed. Everybody’s aware of that. So I know very well that at the initial stage – in fact, the Liberians that crossed at the initial stage of the war also did (the) same. In Pujehun District, in Kailahun District, people have the records." That record, Massaquoi insists, will show that he was never personally involved in committing executions within the RUF, or atrocities against civilians. And while he said his purpose in speaking out now is not to exonerate himself, he added: "You know very well it’s an issue of court. Everybody has to defend himself – what you did as a senior individual or what command you gave for people to commit such an act." Massaquoi has said he would like to pursue his education in the West, but for now any decision will have to be put on hold because, he says, he is committed to his 18-month contract with the NCDDR (National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) to run the agricultural project for ex-combatants. "After that I might decide to go and study," he said.  

A second group of 63 Sierra Leonean refugees in Nigeria is scheduled to be flown to Freetown on Wednesday, a UNHCR spokesman said in Geneva. Like the 69 Sierra Leoneans who flew home last week, most of the returning refugees come from Freetown. Some on this week's flight also originated in the northern Port Loko District and Tonkolili District, and subsequent flights will include people from the east and the south. There are currently about 2,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Nigeria, but only 270 of them have asked to be repatriated.

Sierra Leone's United Nations Deputy Permanent Representative for Legal Affairs, Ambassador Allieu Kanu, was elected a vice president of the International Criminal Court when the court's governing body held its first meeting on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. Jordan's Ambassador Prince Zeid bin Raad was elected president and Ambassador Felipe Paolillo of Uruguay was also elected a vice president.

The bodies of five African stowaways have been found in the hold of Panamanian cargo ship which was underway from Sierra Leone to Brazil, the Associated Press reported. Police at the port of Santos north of Sao Paolo said the five men had apparently suffocated inside one of the hold's small compartments. A sixth stowaway survived. 

2 September: Residents of the Murray Town Amputee Camp say they will refuse to appear before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission until the government improves their living conditions, according to reports on Sunday by the Associated Press and the BBC. In a statement broadcast on state radio, the camp's leaders said they "would have nothing to do with the commission...until their welfare concerns are addressed." Among their demands were better shelter, free health care, and free education for their children. Camp Secretary-General Sahr Soriba was quoted as saying the amputees also wanted life stipend of a bag of rice and Le 200,000 (approximately $100) per month, as well as "reintegration allowances" of about $150, similar to the reinsertion benefits received by the country's ex-combatants. ""If the authorities will go the extra mile to compensate those responsible for our present predicament, why not help us, the victims?", one amputee told the BBC. Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairman Bishop Joseph Humper (pictured left), told the Associated Press that support for the amputees would depend in part on the recommendations of the commission. The commission's work "would not be complete if they stayed away," he added.

1 September: Sierra Leone's legal diamond exports for July were nearly $5 million – their highest level since the introduction of a U.N.-mandated diamond certification scheme nearly two years ago, the BBC reported, quoting an official at the Ministry of Mineral Resources. "The value represents a new record in the export of diamonds from Sierra Leone since the certificate scheme started in October 2000," the official was quoted as saying. So far this year, Sierra Leone has exported about $25 million in diamonds, as compared to $26 million for all of 2001.