The Sierra Leone Web


September 1996

29 September: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has left for a four-day visit to Iran, for the purpose of strengthening economic and cultural relations between the two nations. In June, Iran began helping develop Sierra Leone's fishing industry, providing eight fishing boats and experts. Iranian investors are also inspecting government diamond mines in the east and a bauxite mine in the south which was closed down in 1995 by rebel attacks. Diplomats said that the U.S. embassy voiced its strong opposition to the visit, but that the country has less than $1 million in funds and must take any economic assistance it can find.

26 September: The Sierra Leone army has smashed a rebel base which was used to launch attacks on the Freetown-Bo highway, killing 10 rebels. The attack took place on Tuesday, with the South African mercenary force Executive Outcomes providing helicopter support. The government has set up a special task force to monitor the highway and keep it open. Officials said the attack was not meant to compromise the truce between the government and the RUF, but that the government had to act to break a two week blockade of the highway.

Rebels reportedly ambushed a vehicle on the Makeni-Koidu highway Thursday, killing 4 civilians and a soldier. The civilians were on their way to repair a food truck on the road.

24 September: The planned reopening in 1997 of the Sierra Rutile mine depends on whether the company can secure funding, Sierra Rutile chief executive officer Brian Calver said Monday. "We still hope to reopen next year, although we cannon be specific about the date. The issue now, more than anything else, is a financial one. A lot of our lenders' concerns are commercial ones, as well as the political and security situation in the country." Sierra Rutile is jointly owned by Nord Resources Corp. (U.S.) and Consolidated Rutile Ltd. (Australia), and was the world's second leading source of rutile (titanium dioxide) before an attack by the RUF and subsequent looting by the army caused operations to be suspended in January 1995. Calver estimated that the cost of reopening the mine would be $80 million. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have called for foreign investment in the rutile sector as part of Sierra Leone's structural readjustment program. In May Calver had said that the organsations had agreed to an $18 million loan for rehabilitation. Calver said that shareholders have just held a board meeting in Singapore. "There will have to be compromise between the banks and the shareholders, but I am optimistic that the situation will be resolved quickly," he said. In 1993 Sierra Rutile provided 57% of the country's mineral export earnings. In 1994, Sierra Rutile's investment in Sierra Leone totalled $100 million, and the company employed 1,800 workers.

23 September: The United Nations World Food Program has halted relief convoys to eastern and southern Sierra Leone because of ambushes on food trucks, according to a statement released by the WFP on Sunday. The agency said people in the affected areas might go hungry unless the convoys are resumed soon. Attacks on the trucks have been increasing since mid August. In the latest incident, a WFP truck was ambushed on its way from Freetown to Bo. The last food distribution in Bo was in August, and there was not enough wheat for a full distribution this month. "Officials are reluctant to begin distributing food unless they have enough for everyone, fearing disturbances from those who don't receive supplies," the statement said.

At least one army officer was killed Monday in a clash between traditional hunters (Kamajors) and soldiers in Kenema. The Kamajors are armed with primitive black powder guns, and have served as an auxiliary force in the fight against the rebels. Recently, their demand for greater recognition has brought them into conflict with the army. According to Army Spokesman Col. Abdul Sesay, "The Kamajors reportedly killed one army officer and there may be eight more deaths not confirmed. At five a.m. this morning the Kamajors organized a deliberate attack on brigade headquarters in Kenema and the army reportedly killed five Kamajors." Foreign aid workers have been evacuated by helicopter to Freetown after mortar fire threatened the hospital. A feeding center operated by the British medical group MERLIN was also hit, but there was no immediate report of casualties. The latest fighting reportedly began Sunday afternoon southwest of Kenema and resumed early Monday nearer the city.

Port Authority has been eliminated from the African Champions' Cup, losing to Kenya Breweries. A victory by Port Authority would have made it the first Sierra Leone club soccer team to reach the semi-finals in any African club competition. Kenya Breweries now plays Kawkab Marrakesh of Morocco.

22 September: At least 3 people have been killed and hundreds made homeless by flooding in Lei Chiefdom, in eastern Kono District. Saturday's flooding, which followed several days of heavy rain, destroyed 50 homes, drowned cattle, and destroyed rice crops. Many of the people in this district had only recently been resettled after having to flee their homes because of rebel attacks.

The bauxite mining company SIEROMCO, which until last year had provided one fifth of Sierra Leone's mineral export earnings, has told the government that it is pulling out of the country. The company's mine at Mokanji was closed after a rebel attack in January 1995. Subsequent looting, blamed on government soldiers, caused an estimated $30 million worth of damage. According to Managing Director James Westwood, "At least $20 million will be needed for repairs -- $13 million just for materials -- which in view of the fact there are only 10 years worth of reserves left to mine, is not worth it...We are aware of the loss to Sierra Leone and so we have tried everything possible to resume operations but donors such as the World Bank and the European Union will not fund a project which is not seen as economically and technically viable." SIEROMCO began mining operations in 1964. At its height in the mid-1980's, the company exported 1.7 million tons a year. At the time of the rebel attack the mine employed 700 people.

19 September: Donor countries meeting in Geneva have pledged to give Sierra Leone $212 million for post-war reconstruction and rehabilitation, SLBS (state radio) announced Thursday. The amount is targeted towards the country's short-term economic goals; a U.N. study has put the total cost of reconstruction at $1.2 billion (million million). According to Economy Minister Nat Wellington, "We will be requesting at this stage for only the short-term reconstruction and rehabilitation programme. The rest of the required funds--the one billion U.S. dollars--we will appeal for at the end of the year." The pledging donor countries include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, India, and Japan.

18 September: The Nigerian government will send 15 of its top investigators to Freetown to carry out an independent investigation into the attempted coup against President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. According to SLBS (state radio), "It is important for all the elements in the case to be brought out so that those identified with the coup plot will face justice." A fifth soldier was detained Tuesday in connection with the plot which, authorities say, had been planned for September 8th.

16 September: The Sierra Leone government has approved a request by RUF leader Foday Sankoh to return to his base, where he will brief his followers on a proposed peace accord. According to a senior government official, "Sankoh has asked the government to give him three days in Sierra Leone so he can speak to his men in the country." Transportation will be arranged by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which flew Sankoh to the peace talks in March. According to ICRC representative Laurent Fellay, "The ICRC is willing to grant the government's request to fly Corporal Foday Sankoh into Sierra Leone, but the date has yet to be decided by the government and Sankoh himself." Although talks between the government and the RUF broke down two months ago over the RUF's demand that the government expel the South African mercenary group Executive Outcomes, the two sides have resumed contact, and government officials are optimistic that a comprehensive peace accord will be agreed to later this month or in October. Finance Minister Thaimu Bangura said Saturday that the RUF has dropped a key demand--that the RUF be involved in drawing up the national budget. The government is anxious to demonstrate progress in the budget negotiations before a donors meeting in Geneva this week. "International donor funding of the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the country is predicated on the negotiations. News of this breakthrough will certainly encourage the donors to help," Bangura said.

13 September: The Sierra Leone government has ordered retired soldiers of all ranks to turn in their weapons in the wake of the failed coup attempt. Last week the government announced the forced retirement of 26 senior army officers and 155 non-commissioned officers. According to an official announcement ready Friday on state radio (SLBS), "All those in possession of arms and ammunition should return them to the nearest police station or to the military headquarters before September 16, 1996."

Justice Minister Solomon Berewa said Friday that the government has enough evidence to convict former military rulers Captain Valentine Strasser and Brigadier Julius Maada Bio for defrauding the state of $982,000 on the sale of Sierra Leoneans passports to Hong Kong. Berewa said that a Chinese business man who had coordinated the sales in Hong Kong has agreed to testify. "We have enough evidence now to convict Captain Strasser and Brigadier Bio on this matter. Strasser and Bio deposited the money they received illegally in banks in Switzerland, the Channel Islands, and Ghana. The government now has copies of the accounts." The Chinese businessman allegedly paid Strasser and Bio in person and by wire transfer to the bank accounts. Shortly before the NPRC handed over power to the civilian government, military leaders passed a decree giving themselves immunity from prosecution. That decree is no come up before parliament shortly, and Berewa said there is a strong possibility that it will be scrapped. If so, the government will request Strasser and Bio's extradition. Both are thought to be in the United Kingdom. Berewa said charges against former Foreign Minister Abass Bundu have been dropped after he repaid on Friday the $210,000 he received from passport sales.

12 September: The Sierra Leone government has renegotiated the amount it pays the South African mercenary firm Executive Outcomes, after pressure from the IMF to cut public spending. According to Finance Minister Thiamu Bangura, the government owes the company $18.5 million in back pay. "The national economy is in bad shape. The IMF has been pressuring the government to cut the $4 million it has incurred since it took office...Yesterday the government during negotiations with the IMF and Executive Outcomes reached an agreement with the Executive Outcomes to cut down the monthly salary pay with the government pays to the Executive Outcomes from $1,225,000 to below $1 million." He declined to give the new rate, but stated that Executive Outcomes will maintain the same number of men in Sierra Leone. He said also that the government has been able to pay Executive Outcomes only once since the civilian government took power in March. Diplomats say that Executive Outcomes made unofficial deals with the former military government for South African mining companies to operate in Sierra Leone, giving the company good reason to remain.

The United Nations is seeking $28 million in humanitarian assistance for Sierra Leone, to cover the period between now and February 1997. The amount is far below the $57 million the UN called for in March. The updated appeal, released Wednesday by the UN Department of Human Affairs (DHA) cited recent positive developments in the country. A mid-term review of the appeal was held by U.N. agencies in August. "The people of Sierra Leone have shown great determination to build a better future for themselves," the DHA said. It also noted that, "continued assistance of the international community is urgently required to help the country consolidate the peace and lay the foundation for long-term recovery."

11 September: Four soldiers have been arrested in connection with Monday's attempt to overthrow Sierra Leone's civilian government. A warrant officer, a staff sergeant, a corporal, and a private are all being held at Pademba Road Prison. They had allegedly plotted to seize control of a key bridge and kill President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah on his way to work. The plot was foiled by senior military officers acting on information from a soldier who had been approached by the plotters.

Thousands of SLPP supporters held a rally in Bo Wednesday to call upon the government to return the army to barracks. Demonstrators complained about the harassment of travelers by soldiers, and called for the number of checkpoints be reduced and manned by the police. They also called on the government to weed out bogus soldiers and to provide training for the local defense units comprised of traditional hunters.

10 September: Thousands of women marched on State House Tuesday in support of female circumcision, and called upon President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah to put an end to debate about the Bondo Society. "We demand that international organisations and non-governmental organisations in the country stop interfering with our traditional practices and beliefs," a Bondo Society representative told Kabbah. A similar protest is reported to have taken place in Bo.

A Spanish fishing boat owner's association has complained about the growing menace of piracy in Sierra Leone waters in a letter to the Ministry of Marine Resources in Freetown. The letter said that the pirates are heavily armed, systematically organised, and that they carry out their attacks at regular intervals. A senior ministry official stated that the government is investigating and will take action. "Reports of pirates attacking fishing boats in our coastal waters can seriously damage the fishing industry as many fishing boats will keep away," he said. Piracy has grown since the easing of hostilities in the rebel war, and local fishing boats have been targeted as well.

9 September: A coup attempt against the government has been foiled by senior military officers with the arrest of three soldiers late Sunday. According to an official at State House, "The coup plotters were to attack President Tejan Kabbah while he was going to work today (Monday)." The most senior of the three soldiers is a sergeant, who is reported to have been close to the former military government. Information on the coup attempt was leaked by another soldier.

5 September: Diplomatic sources say that a peace accord between the government and the RUF looks likely this month, and that Foday Sankoh could visit Sierra Leone before a final deal is signed. According to an unnamed diplomat, "We understand that with international assistance Foday Sankoh will soon be flown from Abidjan to Sierra Leone where he will visit his troops in the bush so as to keep them informed of the peace negotiations...A final agreement between the two leaders should then be signed in Abidjan, possibly in the next couple of weeks." Presidential special advisor on peace Sheka Mansaray would not confirm that an accord is imminent, but he did not discount the reports. "Foday Sankoh has been asking for extensive political, social, and economic reforms which we have acceded to," he said. "We even agreed to set up a trust fund for the RUF to help them organise themselves into a political party. We have done all the groundwork to reach an agreement and there is a fair amount of understanding of each other's positions, so it could happen anytime." Skeptics, however, point to recent ceasefire violations which have been blamed on the RUF. An editorial in "For di People" said, "Foday Sankoh has only been biding his time in his posh Abidjan hotel. The recent surge of RUF attacks surely prove that Sankoh has a different conception of peace than the government or that held by many suffering Sierra Leoneans."

The International Monetary Fund has demanded drastic cuts in payment to the South African mercenary group Executive Outcomes before Sierra Leone can expect to receive the $200 million in foreign funding for its postwar resettlement and reconstruction programs.

4 September: 30 people are reported drowned and another 30 are missing after an overloaded motorised canoe hit a rock Tuesday night and capsized on the Rokel River, 15 miles (25 km.) from Freetown. The canoe, which had more than 80 people aboard, was on its way from Conakry to Freetown. 30 bodies and 20 survivors were pulled from the canoe after the accident.

3 September: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has warned RUF leader Foday Sankoh that the government has contingency plans to deal with ceasefire violations and to protect civilians. The announcement was made by Sheka Mansaray, Kabbah's special advisor on peace, and came after a number of attacks in August in which dozens of civilians were killed in villages and on the Freetown-Bo Highway. Survivors have put the blame on the rebels, but aid agencies say that the attacks could also be the work of armed gangs. Mansaray said the government would not compromise the security of civilians, despite the ceasefire. "This is a point of principle and this has been strongly communicated to the RUF leadership. Contingency plans exist to deal with future ceasefire breaches and also to neutralise any threats to innocent travellers." Mansaray also noted that President Kabbah has a special hotline to Sankoh. "Even today we have been in contact with him," he said.