The Sierra Leone Web


October 1996

31 October: Reports from Bo indicate that life is returning to normal following fighting on Wednesday between soldiers and the Kamajors (traditional hunters).

30 October: Fighting broke out Wednesday in Bo between the Kamajors (traditional hunters organised into a civil defense force) and the army. Military officials say the trouble started after soldiers tried to arrest a Kamajor who was caught stealing. Kamajors attacked army bases in Bo on Wednesday. A number of soldiers, Kamajors, and civilians have been killed, officials in Freetown said. As a result of the fighting, the U.N. and other relief groups airlifted their foreign staff members to Freetown. About 30 international workers left Wednesday on a chartered plane and a helicopter; a couple more remained in Bo after failing to make the rendezvous with the plane.

The Australian mining group RGC Ltd. said Wednesday it was confident that the Sierra Rutile mine can be reopened, but that the situation in Sierra Leone remains unstable. RGC group general manager mineral sands Keith Faulkner, who spent a week in the country earlier in October, confirmed previous damage estimates of about A$25 million, but stated that the major items of equipment aren't severely damaged. He said that if a suitable level of security can be achieved in the next six months, rehabilitation of the mine could begin in July 1997 and production in January 1998. "If the government can secure a peace agreement in the next six months, then I think that timeframe is achievable," he said. He said that while operations could be restarted for A$25 million, the company would need A$80 million in refinancing to rehabilitate the mine and complete an expansion plan. Faulkner said he was aware of concerns that RGC Ltd. might not want to restart the mine, as the likely effect would be a drop in the price of rutile. "As a competitor it was certainly better for us to see it out of the marketplace, but as part of our business we are quite happy to see it in operation," he said. RGC Ltd. acquired its indirect stake in the mine earlier this year by acquiring 77 percent of Cudgen RZ Ltd., which in turn owns 50.1 percent of Consolidated Rutile Ltd. Consolidated Rutile Ltd. owns a half share in Sierra Rutile, along with U.S.-based Nord Resources Corp.

29 October: The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Watan reported Tuesday that Kuwait has sent humanitarian assistance to Sierra Leone.

27 October: Aid workers said Sunday that about 1,500 civilians held as slave labourers by the RUF are hiding in the bush after escaping from the rebels. Most were attempting to reach Blama, 12 miles from Kenema. Beth Dunn, program coordinator for the British charity MERLIN, said, "MERLIN which operates in Kenema has already put in place preparation for food, medicines, and shelter for about 1,500 people." She said some of the more serious cases had been taken to Kenema. "To date 45 children, one of them as young as seven months, have been admitted to MERLIN's feeding program in Kenema suffering from severe malnourishment, trauma, and shock. In addition it was assessed that 25 percent of the adults were also suffering from severe malnourishment," Dunn said.

25 October: The U.N. World Food Programme reported Friday that it had found hundreds of people who looked like "living skeletons" after being held by the RUF as slave labourers for as long as five years. The WFP said that thousands more people might have been held captive. After hearing reports of sick and hungry people who had walked a long distance in search of food, WFP officials found a "horrific" scene at Blama on Wednesday. "Men and women were reduced to skeletons, with some of them having to support themselves on sticks to walk," Country Director Mohamed Diab said. "Young men and women, besides being very thin, had swollen feet and sores, having walked days to reach Blama. The children had bloated stomachs, scabies, and discoloured hair because of malnutrition." He said that the people--about 500 in number--had been freed by the Kamajors (traditional hunters) who have been organised into a civil defence force. The WFP believes that there may be up to 15,000 more who were freed by the hunters, and who are hiding in the bush around Kenema. Refugees told stories of brutal treatment by the rebels, and said that they had not been given any food from the harvest or the looted properties. The WFP is planning to send food for the freed people.

The Sierra Leone army and Nigerian soldiers have stepped up security around State House after sustained shooting in the area Thursday night. It was not clear who was responsible, and the Freetown was quiet on Friday. The soldiers set up roadblocks around State House and only pedestrians and official vehicles were allowed through. Schools in the area remained closed.

24 October: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and RUF leader Foday Sankoh met face-to-face Thursday in Abidjan, in a meeting chaired by Ivory Coast President Henri Konan Bedi. In a statement issued from Freetown, the Sierra Leone government said that Kabbah had agreed to Sankoh returning to Sierra Leone with international observers, but that it set a deadline of December 1 for completing the peace process. After the conference, Sankoh accused the government of breaching the truce. "We do respect the ceasefire but Kabbah and his government is not respecting the ceasefire," he said. I need to renew my mandate from my combatants and the People's War Council for further negotiations or signing any peace accord with the so-called government in Freetown." Sankoh said he had been waiting to talk to his fighters for six months, and that he hoped to return to Sierra Leone in early November. He said that he wants representatives of the United Nations, the Organisation of African Unity, and other international organisations to accompany him.

A senior military official said Thursday that the army has knocked out a rebel communications and logistics base near the Freetown-Bo highway, killing 60 rebels. Eyewitnesses reported that the attack was led by Executive Outcomes.

23 October: At least 25 people were killed when lightning struck a boat filled with traders off the coast of Sierra Leone, about 10 miles from Kambia. 40 others are missing and feared dead. Police said that 25 bodies had been taken from the wreck, which split in two when it was hit by a bolt of lightning Tuesday night. "Survivors said there were more than 70 passengers on board the boat but only 35--the 25 dead and 10 rescued--have been brought ashore," a police officer in Kambia said. About 20 bodies were taken to the Baptist Hospital at Kasire. "Some of the bodies have had to be buried as they were already decomposing. Relatives of the passengers have been storming the hospital for information," a staff member said. Meanwhile, search parties of police and fisherman continue to look for survivors. The boat was travelling from Conakry to Freetown when the accident happened.

The United States Department of Agriculture has offered $50 million in credit guarantees for exports to West African countries for fiscal 1997. The countries included are Sierra Leone, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Congo, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, and Togo.

22 October: The South African mercenary firm Executive Outcomes has taken over security at the hydroelectric dam under construction at Bumbuna after an attack by rebels last weekend. The move was taken at the insistence of the Italian construction company Salcost, which had evacuated its staff to Freetown and threatened to pull out of the contract after rebels temporarily overran government soldiers guarding the dam. More than 20 people were killed in the attack. "The military high command in Freetown has received intelligence reports that RUF rebels are again massing about 15 miles from the dam for another attempt to capture it," one military official said. The dam is due to start generating electricity in 1998.

21 October: Reporters Sans Frontieres, an independent organisation defending press freedom worldwide, has accused the Sierra Leone government of violating press freedom.

20 October: The army said it repelled an RUF attack on Bumbuna Sunday, where the government is building a hydroelectric dam.

19 October: Suspected rebels attacked Masanga in northern Sierra Leone Friday, killing 36 people including six hospital patients. Two Filipino doctors operating on two patients at Masanga Hospital had to abandon surgery and flee with patients and some hospital workers in two vans. An undisclosed number of hospital workers and patients were abducted by the rebels, who looted the medical store and dispensary. The other killings were in Masanga itself and the surrounding villages.

14 October: The Revolutionary United Front has reportedly released more than 800 civilians held captive for over two years.

12 October: Newspaper editor Hilton Fyle was charged before a magistrate Saturday with seditious publication. The charge arose in connection with a story that appeared in his weekly newspaper "1 2 3," which alleged that justice officials had accepted bribes to drop a fraud case against former foreign minister Abass Bundu and a businessman. Fyle pleaded not guilty to three counts of publishing a false report likely to cause alarm, and was released on 10 million leones bail ($10,000). Hilton Fyle is the former host of the popular BBC World Service program "Network Africa." During the war he maintained a high profile internationally, raising money for refugees and displaced students in Sierra Leone. On Friday, the editor of "The Torchlight" was sentenced to a month in prison for contempt of the assembly. Editor Shaka Tarrawalie pleaded guilty in connection with a story last week which accused lawmakers of accepting bribes from President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah's government.

Pirates attacked a Greek fishing boat off Freetown Thursday night, injuring crew members of the "Alex 3" and stealing fish and shrimp worth thousands of dollars. Crew members reported that 11 pirates wearing hoods and armed with AK-47 automatic rifles fired at the vessel at close range before boarding it. They said 8 of the 11 pirates were wearing military fatigues. Four wounded crew members were admitted to Connaught Hospital. Police assembled the rest of the crew Friday to try to identify suspects who were rounded up in a raid on a suspected pirates den in Freetown's Eastend district. Last month about 1,500 fisheries workers staged a 10-day strike to pressure the government to act against the pirates, but called it off on October 1 after the navy arrested five soldiers for piracy.

10 October: President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah appealed to the United Nations General Assembly Thursday not to abandon Africa. "Looking at current economic, social and political conditions in our continent, including the atrocities meted out to our own kith and kin, one is inclined to lose hope in the ability of Africa to achieve sustainable development," he said. "But, the thrust of my message today is simple. My appeal to the international community is not to abandon Africa. Even though we may be on our knees in anguish, I firmly believe there is hope for Africa. Referring to fears in Sierra Leone that the Revolutionary United Front might resume hostilities, he told the assembly, "It is therefore time for the international community to act to forestall this potential catastrophe by demanding that the RUF sign the peace agreement without further delay, failing which the imposition of sanctions against them should be considered."

Sierra Leone is one of 14 African countries facing food shortages, according to a report released by the the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Other countries named in the report are Liberia, Somalia, Burundi, Sudan, Tanzania, Angola, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Zaire. According to the report, 40 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa--about 215 million people--do not have enough food. "The problem in many of them is caused by man-made or natural disasters," the report said.

8 October: 50 people died Sunday when a boat traveling from Bonthe to Freetown overturned in the Rokel River. The boat was carrying 60 people, mostly local traders, when it capsized in stormy weather. Police said 15 bodies have been recovered. This latest disaster brings the death toll in boat disasters to 200 in the last four months.

A World Health Organisation study has found a dramatic upsurge in Yellow Fever cases, particularly in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon. Yellow Fever, which is spread by mosquitoes, is difficult to diagnose, so the disease is often underreported. WHO estimates there are 200,000 cases each year, nearly all in sub-Saharan Africa. In Sierra Leone, there were 25 reported deaths in 1994 and 10 in 1995. The Yellow Fever vaccine is 95% effective, but lack of economic resources in the affected countries often means that it is not readily available. Of the high-risk countries, only Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Gambia, and Senegal have vaccinated 50% or more of their populations.

6 October: The United States will provide assistance to help Sierra Leone demobilize combatants and resettle refugees. The announcement was made Sunday by officials of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance after a meeting with President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.

4 October: Police have arrested 67 foreigners in Koidu on charges of entering the country illegally and digging for diamonds. Those detained include Gambians, Lebanese, Guineans, Malians, Nigerians, a Russian, and a Senegalese. Most crossed into Sierra Leone from Guinea.

1 October: Fishermen working in Sierra Leonean waters have cancelled a 10-day old strike after a navy patrol arrested five soldiers raiding a fishing trawler off Banana Island. The soldiers are now in detention; the boat belonged to Okekey Fishing Co. Ltd., one of the country's largest fishing companies. Union spokesman Jonas Coleman said, "We are calling off the strike because after one week of negotiation they have doubled naval units patrolling the territorial waters. The fact that the patrol units yesterday captured five government soldiers attacking a trawler captained by a South Korean off Freetown coast helped a great deal." He said that police have also stepped up prosecution of piracy cases in the courts. Another South Korean captain who was badly beaten by pirates last week when two trawlers were attacked in broad daylight is recovering from serious injuries in a Freetown hospital. Last month a boat owners association in Spain and the Canary Islands called upon the Sierra Leone government to crack down on the pirates, whom it described as heavily armed, systematically organised, and carrying out their attacks at regular intervals. The strike of the 1,500 fisheries workers was mean to put pressure on the government to act against the pirates.