The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

November 2001
 

30 November: Sierra Leone's new Ambassador to the OAU (soon to be the African Union), Melvin Chalobah, presented his credentials this week to OAU Secretary-General Amara Essy in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Chalobah is a former senior executive in the African Development Bank. More recently, he served at the OAU General Secretariat as Chief Technical Advisor to a UNDP-sponsored OAU project. He replaces Ambassador Alhaji Fode M. Dabor, who has been appointed as Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Belgium.

The Special Advisor on War Affected Children to Canada's Minister of  International Cooperation will undertake a week-long mission to Sierra Leone beginning December 1 to assess the living conditions of the country's children. Lieutenant-General (Rtd.) Romeo Dallaire will witness first hand the effect of a decade of civil war on the children of Sierra Leone, and to assess Canada's efforts to help the children heal and build lasting peace, International Cooperation Minister Maria Minna (pictured right) said in a statement. "Over the past decade, millions of children have been killed, disabled, orphaned, exploited or left homeless as a result of armed conflicts," Minna said. "General Dallaire's field visit to Sierra Leone will contribute to the effectiveness of Canada's work in support of children affected by armed conflict." Dallaire's visit is part of the Canadian International Development Agency's (CIDA) follow-up to commitments the agency made at the Winnipeg Conference on War-Affected Children in September 2000 and in its Action Plan on Child Protection, launched in June 2001. As such, he will meet in the field with CIDA-funded relief organisations, and will report to the minister on areas where Canada's efforts could be strengthened. According to UNAMSIL, Dallaire will hold discussions with senior officials of the Sierra Leone government, UNAMSIL, and the United Nations Children's Fund. He is also scheduled to visit child protection projects in Kailahun, Daru, Bo and Makeni. Dallaire previously commanded U.N. observer missions in Uganda and Rwanda.

Germany has temporarily suspended relations with the Liberian shipping registry, the Reuters news agency reported on Friday. A U.N. Panel of Experts reported last month that the registry had made irregular payments of $925,000 to fund arms purchases, in violation of United Nations sanctions. The U.N. broadened an arms embargo against Liberia last March, and imposed additional sanctions in May, because of that government's alleged role in backing Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. 

Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi presented his country's flag on Thursday to a battalion of 999 troops, 55 of them women, who are leaving for Sierra Leone to join the UNAMSIL force, the East African Standard reported. The contingent will replace another battalion which is returning home.

29 November: Diamond producing and importing countries meeting together with diamond industry representatives and non-governmental organisations in Gabarone, Botswana this week to find ways to curb the trade in illicit "conflict diamonds," agreed Thursday that all shipments of rough diamonds must be accompanied by certificates of origin. The meeting, the last in the 20-month long "Kimberly Process," agreed to require certificates from the producing countries. Re-export certificates would be required for each subsequent shipment of the stones until they reach their final destination. According to a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting, countries in a position to do so should begin issuing the certificates immediately. "All others are encouraged to do so by 1 June 2002. It is the intention of participants to start the full implementation simultaneously by the end of 2002," it said. In addition, the diamond producers and traders have agreed to supply warranties stating that the gems do not originate in areas controlled by insurgencies. The agreement will be submitted to the United Nations General Assembly for action early next month. The illicit mining and sale of conflict diamonds has been blamed for fueling rebel wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

28 November: The U.S. House of Representatives approved on a 408-6 vote Wednesday legislation aimed at curbing the import of so-called "conflict diamonds," blamed for fueling wars in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The bill had previously stalled, but gained new life after a Washington Post report last month alleged that Sierra Leone's RUF rebels had sold diamonds to the al-Qaeda network, the group believed responsible for last September's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. A companion bill in the Senate has not yet been taken up, but the legislation enjoys the support of President George W. Bush, industry groups and human rights organisations, and is expected to pass. "This bill will go a long way in saving lives," said Representative Tony Hall (pictured right), one of the bill's sponsors. The legislation, if ultimately approved, would have a significant effect on the global diamond industry, since Americans purchase some 65 percent of the world's polished stones. Under the compromise bill adopted on Wednesday, the president would have the authority to impose sanctions on countries which refuse to establish a certification system to ensure they diamonds they export come from legitimate sources. The president would also be able to seize parcels of gemstones if there was evidence they were conflict diamonds. The bill also provides $5 million in each of its first two years to help poor countries set up certification systems. 

An RUF official denied Tuesday that the delay in disarming combatants in Kenema and Kailahun District was the fault of RUF leaders. According to the Associated Press, Eldred Collins told reporters that RUF combatants had failed to turn in their arms because they wanted the government to release senior rebel officials, including jailed RUF leader Foday Sankoh. "It is the rank-and-file that have suspended the disarmament until their political concerns are addressed and not the interim leader Issa Sesay," Collins was quoted as saying. Under an agreement between the government and the RUF, disarmament in Kenema and Kailahun Districts was to have begun on November 15, and all combatants in the country were to have handed over their weapons by November 30. So far, only seven RUF combatants and 599 CDF militiamen have disarmed in the two districts. Nationwide, 36,889 combatants on both sides have given up their guns since the disarmament process resumed in May. Collins said the RUF fighters were concerned about their own futures, and also about the transformation of the rebel movement into a political party in time for next year's presidential and parliamentary elections.

A Nigerian-sponsored four-day programme to train ten RUF officials in the principles of democratic governance got underway Tuesday in the Nigerian capital Abuja, the Associated Press reported. Among those taking part is Pallo Bangura, the RUF's acting secretary-general. Bangura (pictured left), a former Fourah Bay College lecturer, was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the short-lived AFRC military junta. In December 1999 he was appointed Minister of Energy and Power in President Kabbah's unity government, but was detained in May 2000 after the collapse of the peace process. He was freed last August. "We are transforming into a political party and we want to draw from the experience of already established political parties," Bangura said at Tuesday's opening session. Agnes Mani, a member of the RUF's Political and Peace Council, and the recently-released head of the RUF's Women's Wing, Mayilla Yansaneh, are also taking part in the programme. Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Sierra Leone, told the RUF members it was "crucial" that the rebel movement be transformed into a political party before next May's presidential and parliamentary elections. "The importance of the RUF transforming into a formidable political party cannot be overemphasised," he said.

The payment of reinsertion benefits to some 4,000 Kamajor ex-combatants in Bo got off to a rocky start on Tuesday when those who had lined up at the Bo Coronation Field reacted angrily to a suggestion by U.N. military observers that battalion leaders be registered first, BBC Bo correspondent Richard Margao reported. "The ex-combatants pelted stones and sticks on UNAMSIL officials, who were armed to the teeth. UNAMSIL, in a bid to protect themselves, cocked their guns but did not shoot," he said, adding: "The matter was later resolved by CDF general commander Joe Nuni and officials of the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration."  Margao said registration was proceeding normally Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning. He quoted UNAMSIL officials as saying that 300 ex-combatants per day would be registered through next week.

27 November: United Nations agencies are appealing for $88,624,925 from international donors to support humanitarian work in Sierra Leone next year. The request is part of the U.N.'s $2.5 billion 2002 Consolidated Inter-Agency appeal which covers efforts to aid some 33 million victims of conflict and natural disasters in Africa, Asia, and parts of eastern and southeastern Europe. In launching the appeal on Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (pictured right) lamented the "sad fact" that in 2001, donor nations had come up with barely 50 percent of the $3.2 billion the U.N. had requested for humanitarian operations. "We must do better next year," he said. "And I repeat my appeal that we should forget no one who depends on us for help and hope. The international community has a duty to provide life-saving assistance not only on the basis of which situation draws media attention, but also on the basis of agreed, definable minimum needs." The Appeal for Sierra Leone, by Sector: Agriculture - $2,474,000; Coordination and Support Services - $8,282,137; Economic Recovery and Infrastructure - $8,702,544; Education - $3,196,100; Family Shelter and Non-Food Items - $5,098,000; Food - $29,790,268; Health - $7,163,536; Multi-Sectoral - $14,959,111; Protection / Human Rights / Rule of Law - $5,875,162; Security - $699,067; Water and Sanitation - $2,385,000. The Appeal for Sierra Leone, by Agency: Food and Agriculture Organization - $2,474,00; International Labour Organization - $458,500; International Organization for Migration - $16,364,676; Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs - $1,260,009; Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights - $500,262; U.N. Mission for Sierra Leone - $773,273; United Nations Development Programme - $3,199,067; United Nations Population Fund - $1,137,500; United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees - $14,959,111; United Nations Children's Fund - $13,168,000; United Nations Volunteers / UNAMSIL - $704,000; World Food Programme - $31,516,491; World Health Organization - $2,110,036.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, is preparing to assist some 7,500 former refugees in Guinea return to their homes in Sierra Leone's northern Kambia District, a UNHCR spokesman said in Geneva. The move is scheduled to begin in early December, and will mark the first time the agency has helped returnees go back to their original homes since the outbreak of civil conflict a decade ago. On Monday, the Sierra Leone government declared the last of Kambia District's seven chiefdoms to be safe. This followed the completion of the demobilisation of ex-combatants earlier this year, the deployment of the British-trained Sierra Leone Army, the presence of military observers, and the restoration of government authority in the district. The former refugees, who returned from the Guinean prefecture of Forecariah at the end of last year, had been cared for under a temporary settlement programme on the Lungi Peninsula. The UNHCR, through its implementing partners, will continue to support the returnees through a variety of community-based projects, including health clinics, schools, water and sanitation, market places and support to local administration, the spokesman said. In addition, the returnees will benefit from distributions of tools and seeds and support from micro-credit schemes to help them get re-established. Within a few months, the spokesman said, similar projects could begin in Sierra Leone's eastern districts, which have been devastated by the war. Several fact-finding missions which visited Kono in recent weeks have reported the collapse of the district's physical and social infrastructure, including health care, education, and services for children. "Koidu, the district capital, suffered severe damage. Life at the village level has also been seriously affected," the spokesman said. Despite the heavy destruction, the Kono Returnee Committee reported that several tens of thousands of persons have resettled in the district over the past year, including 20,000 in Koidu alone. "The most critical issue for returnees in Kono is the lack of shelter," the spokesman said. "Many homes have been destroyed and those remaining are often occupied by others." Surveys conducted in Guinean refugee camps earlier this year indicated that about 35 percent of the refugees said they were from Kono. About 65 percent of all refugees in Guinea and Liberia come from Kono and Kailahun Districts. Kailahun District has also received a large number of returnees from Guinea and Liberia, along with several thousand Liberian refugees who fled fighting in Lofa County since February.

The Sierra Leone government signed two U.N. conventions and three protocols on terrorism on Tuesday, a diplomatic source in New York told the Sierra Leone Web. Deputy Foreign Minister Sahr Matturi signed the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and its three protocols: the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children; the Protocol Against Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea or Air; and the Protocol Against the Illicit Manufacturing and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition. The Deputy Minister was accompanied at the signing ceremony by Sierra Leone's Deputy Permanent Representative for Legal Affairs, Ambassador Allieu Ibrahim Kanu, and the Deputy Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Ibrahim S. Conteh.

26 November: Disarmament failed to get underway Monday in the RUF-held diamond-mining centre of Tongo Field, but a UNAMSIL spokesperson played down the significance of the delay. "The RUF leadership there in Tongo indicated that they will disarm as soon as they get word from the leadership in Makeni to do so, and that they are ready to disarm, they are waiting the word from the higher authorities," Margaret Novicki told the BBC. "We’ve had a lot of hiccups in the disarmament process since it’s begun. It doesn’t always start on the day that we expect it to start. There are frequently a variety of issues that come into play. Some of the issues involved in the delay were of a logistical nature. The RUF leadership raised some political issues as a reason why they were delaying to begin the process, and we anticipate that we will be able to sort these problems out in the very near future." Disarmament also got off to a slow start in Kailahun District last week, with only five RUF and 198 CDF combatants having turned in their arms as of Friday. Novicki said the RUF had not yet begin disarming in Kailahun town, "I would imagine for the same reasons they have not yet begun to disarm in Tongo." She said the U.N. remained optimistic. "We expect that we will be able to discuss with the RUF these issues, which we have been doing in fact, and that disarmament will get back on track in the very near future," she said.

As disarmament was set to begin Monday in the eastern diamond-mining town of Tongo Field, an opposition member of parliament has questioned whether it would even be possible to disarm combatants in the area prior to next May's presidential and parliamentary elections. "I don’t think the timetable is even going to be correct as far as Tongo is concerned," People's Democratic Party representative Kemoh Sesay told the BBC during a visit to London. "There are no indications that they are moving in accordance with what they’ve set as a pace for disarmament. It is still in a snail’s pace, and I think by May they might not even be able to disarm Tongo." On Saturday, a UNAMSIL official told journalists that both RUF rebels and the pro-government CDF militia were stalling the disarmament process in RUF-held Tongo Field and the CDF strongholds of Panguma and Joru, while they scrambled to mine more of the gemstones. Sesay criticised the government for not doing more to stop illicit mining in the area, as well as the trafficking in illegally-mined diamonds, which he said was going on all over the country. "(Government has) the ability to detect anybody that is carrying diamonds," he said. "They have the ability to do that. So as far as I am concerned, government knows that it is happening, but to tell you whether they can stop it or not I cannot tell you."

A Nigerian scam-artist posing as a Sierra Leonean prince was arrested in the Gambia Monday after his intended victim, a businesswoman in the U.S. Pacific island state of Hawaii, turned the tables on him and tipped off Gambian authorities. Gambia's National Intelligence Agency traced the letters to the Westfield Gamtel Internet Cafe in Banjul, where they apprehended Emeka Agha and his accomplice, likewise a Nigerian, as they were busy sending out emails to more intended victims. When Alexa Russell received the letter from Agha, who introduced himself to her as Prince Mohamed Camara, the son of the non-existent murdered King Octopus Mohamed Camara II, she sent him a polite reply. Then she turned to the internet and sent a copy of the letter to the Sierra Leone Web. The Sierra Leone Web's editor in turn forwarded it to a source close to Gambian President Yayah Jammeh, who set in motion the process leading to Agha's apprehension. The so-called "Nigerian 419 scam" — named for an article of the Nigerian criminal code which deals with fraud — has been around for decades, but has been given new life and a farther reach by the internet. Law enforcement agencies estimate the scam costs businesses around the world hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Sierra Leone's decade of conflict and its diamonds have made the country an ideal backdrop for many West African scam artists, who often claim to be relatives of former government or rebel officials, nearly always claim to be in possession of tens of millions of dollars in illicit cash, and generally offer the intended victim a percentage of the money in exchange for help in moving it to a safer location. More information on the scam, and copies of some of the scores of actual letters from scam artists received by the Sierra Leone Web, can be accessed on the website's scams page.

25 November: RUF rebels and pro-government CDF militiamen are stalling the disarmament programme in parts of Kenema District as they scramble to mine as many diamonds as possible before turning in their arms, Reuters correspondent Christo Johnson reported on Sunday. In the diamond-mining town of Tongo Field, where disarmament is scheduled to begin on Monday, RUF commanders say they will not disarm until the government frees RUF leader Foday Sankoh and other senior rebel officials. The rebels also demanded confirmation that the RUF's political party had been registered ahead of next year's presidential and parliamentary elections, and guarantees for their security once they disarmed. An unidentified senior U.N. official told journalists who visited Tongo Field on Saturday that the political demands were a ploy by local RUF commanders to delay handing over control of the area to government forces. "The fact of the matter is that the RUF in Tongo Field has carried out extensive illicit diamond mining and they are delaying the disarmament process," the official said. Johnson quoted U.N. military observers as saying the CDF militia was disrupting disarmament in two diamond mining areas under their control, at Panguma and Joru. Under a timetable agreed between the government and the RUF, disarmament of all combatants was to have been completed by November 30. A UNAMSIL spokesperson acknowledged last week, however, problems "primarily of a logistical nature," would likely extend the process into December.

23 November: United Nations officials in Sierra Leone have called for Guinean troops to withdraw from Sierra Leone's eastern Kailahun District so that Sierra Leone Army troops can be deployed, UNAMSIL military spokesman Major Mohammed M. Yerima (pictured left) said on Friday. Last week UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande confirmed that Guinean soldiers were present in the town of Yinga, in Kiss Teng Chiefdom, some 12 miles from the border. According to the Reuters news agency, Yerima said Opande met with Guinean officials in Koindu and said he would use all diplomatic means to make them leave. "Apart from Guinean troops based in Sierra Leone's territory, the situation in all the border areas with Guinea is relatively calm," he said.

22 November: The wreckage of a U.N. helicopter that crashed earlier this month after taking off from the helipad at UNAMSIL headquarters was located Thursday morning by a Ukrainian search-and-recovery team, UNAMSIL said in a statement. The wreckage is located west of the Cape Sierra lighthouse, 600 to 700 metres offshore in 25 metres of water. According to witnesses, the Russian-built Mi-8 helicopter exploded shortly after leaving for Lungi International Airport, killing seven persons. Three bodies have so far been recovered. 

21 November: An RUF official confirmed Wednesday that disarmament had not begun on schedule in Kailahun District, but he denied that the rebels had suspended disarmament in protest over conclusions reached at least week's National Consultative Conference. Mike Lamin, the RUF's liaison with the government and the former Trade and Industry Minister, told Associated Press correspondent Clarence Roy-Macaulay that logistical difficulties, including the lack of disarmament camps to house ex-combatants, were responsible for the delay. On Tuesday, a U.N. official said RUF interim leader Issa Sesay had ordered a halt to disarmament in the district to show the rebel movement's displeasure over recommendations by the conference, which included endorsement of the proposed District Block electoral system and elections next May — both of which the RUF opposes. Lamin acknowledged the rebels were not happy with the result, but he said the RUF would accept the decision of the majority. Whether the Sierra Leonean people would accept the outcome, he added, was "another issue." Meanwhile, senior RUF commanders in Kailahun District met with UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande in Pendembu on Tuesday, and assured him that contrary to earlier reports they were ready to disarm.

Japan announced Wednesday it would contribute $500,000 toward the establishment of a Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Kyodo news agency reported. In August 2000, the United Nations Security Council authorised the establishment of a joint Sierra Leonean and international court charged with prosecuting those deemed most responsible for war crimes committed during the course of the country's civil war.

20 November: Omrie Golley said late Tuesday that he had decided to delay his departure as chairman of the RUF's Political and Peace Council because of pressure from the Sierra Leone government, UNAMSIL and senior RUF leaders in Freetown and Makeni for him to remain until the completion of the disarmament process. Golley told the Sierra Leone Web he was still determined to call it quits, but that he had decided to stay on until after the next Tripartite conference on December 13. "Following my statement, I’ve had numerous calls from both inside and outside Sierra Leone about my decision, and that has forced me to rethink the timing of my ultimate departure," he said.

RUF interim leader Issa Sesay has suspended disarmament in Sierra Leone's eastern Kailahun District, apparently in protest over recommendations arising from last week's National Consultative Conference, the acting U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General said on Tuesday. According to the Associated Press, Behrooz Sadry (pictured left) said he could not confirm that the rebels had actually stopped handing over their weapons in the RUF's eastern stronghold. "We have had discussions with the RUF over what they disagree with, and we hope to continue the discussions with them, so that the disarmament will continue," he was quoted as saying. While the RUF's grievances were not disclosed, a source told the Sierra Leone Web that Sesay had complained that the RUF and northern paramount chiefs had been marginalised at the conference. 

The Sierra Leone Army has deployed in the towns of Kainkordu and Sukudu in Kono District's Soa Chiefdom, the Reuters news agency reported on Tuesday. Kainkordu, the chiefdom headquarters, is 19 miles east of the diamond-mining centre of Koidu and some 30 miles west of the Guinea border. It is primarily an agricultural area. It was also one of the sites earlier this year of fierce clashes between the Guinean-armed Donso militia and RUF rebels. Colonel Tamba Allieu, who commanded the Kono deployment, told reporters in Sukudu on Monday that the occupation of the two towns would allow the British-trained soldiers to secure the border area. "We have very good, cordial relations with our Guinean military colleagues patrolling their own border," he said.

A 14-year old former child soldier from Sierra Leone addressed the United Nations Security Council Tuesday as the 15-member U.N. body took up the issue of children and armed conflict. Alhaji Babah Sawaneh (pictured right) related how he was kidnapped from his village of Madina Loko in 1997 and forced to fight for the RUF. "We killed people, burnt down houses, destroyed properties and cut limbs," he said. In January 2000, Sawaneh and other child combatants were demobilised by the RUF and turned over to the Catholic charity Caritas Makeni. After the peace process broke down four months later, he was among some 200 children who fled to Freetown to avoid being re-recruited by the rebels. Sawaneh told of his struggle to fit back into society. "In school I suffered resentment from other school children," he said. "They looked at me differently like an evil person. Maybe they had good reasons. After all, we used to do very horrible things to them, their families, friends and communities. But we suffered just as them because we were forced to do so by our commanders. We have to ask for forgiveness and demonstrate extremely good ways of life." According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Alhaji Sawaneh's appearance marked the first time a child has been invited to address the council, and underscored the importance of involving children in decisions that directly affect them. Also testifying before the Council Tuesday were Olara Otunnu, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, and UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Ruud Lubbers (pictured left) and ECOWAS, represented by Executive Secretary Lansana Kouyate, signed a Memorandum of Understanding in New York on Monday aimed at consolidating refugee protection and addressing the needs of vulnerable groups such as women and children in the sub-region. The agreement also covers other issues, such as mitigating the negative effects of large refugee populations on the environments of host countries and promoting refugee law among governments and civil society, a UNHCR spokesman said in Geneva.

A total of 35,457 combatants including 3,834 children have disarmed in Sierra Leone since the beginning of the year, UNAMSIL said on Tuesday. Of these, 23,133 were CDF, 11,830 were RUF, 264 were AFRC, 214 were ex-SLA and 16 were classified as other. By area: Bombali District - 3,647 (3,198 RUF and 449 CDF); Bo District - 3,717 (17 RUF and 3,700 CDF); Western Area - 1,628 (1,627 CDF and 1 RUF); Tonkolili District - 2,911 (1,534 RUF and 1,377 CDF); Pujehun District - 2,359 CDF; Kenema District - 142 CDF; Kailahun District - 161 (5 RUF and 156 CDF).

19 November: Omrie Golley, the former spokesman and legal representative to Sierra Leone's RUF rebels and, since February of this year, the head of the RUF's political wing, announced Monday that he was calling it quits. "I feel that the time has now come for me to reassess and refocus my personal role and involvement in consolidating the peace process to which I remain completely committed," Golley said in a statement issued in the U.K. "In this regard, I am today announcing my resignation as chairman of the Political and Peace Council of the RUF, which will enable me to widen my involvement in the peace process by actively supporting policies of reconciliation, and also assisting with the reconstruction and rehabilitation of our beloved country." And although Golley's relations with some RUF officials are thought to have been been turbulent, he insisted he was departing on good terms. "My decision to leave the RUF is amicable, and I stand ready to offer advice and to support them in their efforts to consolidate the peace process should it be needed," he said. In an interview with the Sierra Leone Web on Sunday, Golley pointed to accomplishments including the Abuja ceasefire accord, progress in disarming combatants, and agreements with the government on the way forward in the peace process during his tenure. "We’ve made some progress and a lot remains to be done," he said. "I feel very strongly that it is accomplishable, and I feel that we all need to take stock as to what has happened and to learn from it as to the best way that we can move forward in the future in terms of building a better Sierra Leone." Along with his resignation Monday, Golley announced the formation of his National Reconstruction Foundation, through which he said he would channel his efforts to support reconciliation and reconstruction in Sierra Leone: "Helping with the ‘R’ (reintegration) side of the DDR in terms of the ex-combatants...psychological counseling and things like that," he said. Golley has made no secret of the fact that he would someday like to be president of Sierra Leone, but he said he would not be a candidate in next year's presidential and parliamentary elections. "I need to have my people know me even more, and to let my people know the sacrifices I have made for them, and for them to understand also really who I am, because I’ve spent a lot of time outside Sierra Leone," he said. And despite his six-year relationship with the RUF, he refused to commit himself to supporting the rebel group's yet-to-be-formed political party. "The critical thing for me is which party, or which individual, is best placed to move the country forward insofar as reconciliation and consolidation of the peace process is concerned," he said. "That person, when that person emerges, when policies associated with that person or party emerge, I will support that person. The peace process for me is the most important, and whoever propagates and actively involves through concrete practical policies the consolidation of peace in Sierra Leone I will support — the RUF or any other political party."

Representatives of the Sierra Leone government, the United Nations and ECOWAS meeting in New York on Friday noted remarkable progress with regard to the restoration of peace and stability in Sierra Leone, and urged all parties to the peace process to maintain this spirit of collaboration in order to consolidate the gains achieved so far. In a communiqué agreed following the fifth meeting of the U.N. - ECOWAS - Sierra Leone Joint Mechanism, delegates stressed the importance of reintegrating ex-combatants into society, and they called on the United Nations and ECOWAS to mobilise financial support from the international community and donor countries to continue the process. The statement commended Sierra Leone's recently-concluded National Consultative Conference, where consensus decisions were taken on the electoral process and on the date for presidential and parliamentary elections. The meeting noted support provided by the government in transforming the RUF into a political party, and called for additional technical competence to complete the process, particularly from ECOWAS countries. The meeting also noted positive developments in the Mano River Union states and the reciprocal benefits for the peace process in Sierra Leone. It urged the governments of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea to pursue the progress made so far, which should culminate in an early meeting of the three heads of state. The meeting also pointed to an upsurge in the number of refugees returning to Sierra Leone from neighbouring countries, resulting in a greater number of displaced persons and creating resettlement and rehabilitation problems. It noted that with the end of disarmament, the improved security situation and the coming elections, more refugees would seek to return home. The meeting therefore requested that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees take steps to ensure an orderly repatriation of refugees. The meeting also commended the deployment of UNAMSIL, Sierra Leone Police, and security forces around Sierra Leone, and called on the Sierra Leone government to redouble its efforts to extend its authority throughout the country. The meeting also called for sustained commitment and assistance from the international community beyond next year's elections, and emphasised that the holding of elections should not be considered as the end of the re-establishment of durable peace in Sierra Leone.

The final contingent of U.N. peacekeeping troops — an 800-strong Nepali battalion — arrived in Freetown on Sunday, bring UNAMSIL's troops strength close to its authorised ceiling of 17,500, Associated Press correspondent Clarence Roy-Macaulay reported. UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande (pictured right) welcomed the battalion's arrival, noting that his troops had been stretched "to the limit" while overseeing the disarmament of Sierra Leone's warring factions. After completing an orientation programme, the Nepalis will be deployed in Bonthe and Mattru Jong.

128 police officers were deployed last week in the RUF stronghold of Makeni, UNAMSIL said in on Monday. Val Bangura, the Assistant Police Commissioner for the North, was quoted as saying Sunday that his force had "a voluminous task ahead, especially given what has happened before." He promised to go the extra mile in restoring law and order in the Northern Provincial capital. Meanwhile Alan Doss, the U.N. Deputy Special Representative for Governance and Stabilisation, visited Makeni at the weekend, where he toured the hospital's recently-reopened surgical block and buildings which will be occupied by key government ministries after they are renovated. He also visited a building which will house U.N. agencies working in Makeni. 

Paramount chiefs will return to Kono on November 22 for the first time since war broke out in the district, UNAMSIL said on Monday. During a visit to Kono on Sunday by U.N. Deputy Special Representative for Governance and Stabilisation Alan Doss, the local UNAMSIL commander called on residents to return to the district because "Koidu is now a safe place." Brigadier Ahmed Shuja Pasha of Pakistan also appealed to non-governmental organisations to set up offices in Koidu to address humanitarian needs in the area.

18 November: Sierra Leone's newest political party, the Citizens United for Peace and Progress (CUPP), officially launched its U.S. branch on Saturday with a rally held at Howard University's Blackburn Center. The CUPP also unveiled its official website, www.cupp.org, and announced the opening of offices in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland. CUPP leader Raymond Bamidele Thompson, a Washington lawyer and regular commentator on Freetown's Radio 98.1 weekend programme "Africa My Africa," told the Sierra Leone Web that he would leave for Sierra Leone on December 2 in advance of next year's presidential and parliamentary elections, now scheduled for May 14.

17 November: The Nigerian government has offered to provide training in democratic governance to six former combatants, including the secretary-general, deputy secretary-general and public relations officer of the RUF, the Reuters news agency reported on Saturday. The six are expected to begin two weeks of training at the People's Democratic Institute in Abuja on November 27. "The whole essence is to prepare them for life in a democratic set-up and proper integration into the civil society," said Ralph Uwechue, President Olusegun Obasanjo's Special Envoy on Conflict Resolution.  Uwechue added that another 40 ex-combatants would be offered places in Nigerian educational institutions, with details to be worked out by UNAMSIL. 

16 November: The Sierra Leone government has welcomed recommendations resulting from this week's National Consultative Conference, Information Minister Dr. Cecil Blake told Radio France International on Friday. "The report is yet to be presented officially to government," he said. "At this point I cannot pre-empt government’s response in its entirety. But all I can say is we were part of that deliberation and the government had a five-person delegation there." Blake noted that members of parliament had also been part of the process. "All the leaders of the major political parties participated in this conference, so they must have got a very good feel for what transpired and they also participated in the resolutions," he said. "This was a national conference, so what was good about it, we did not have any distinction between government and opposition or government and civil society. This was a situation in which all Sierra Leoneans came together to chart the way forward for our nation." 

"If we are at all realistic, it will be very difficult for disarmament to end on 30 November," UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki told reporters on Friday. "From the Tripartite meetings, when 30 November was set as a date, everybody regarded it as a target date, a date that we will all try our best to work towards but indeed recognizing the fact that there are a lot of potential difficulties in completing disarmament in such a fast period of time. And those problems are primarily of a logistical nature. So we do expect that disarmament will run over into December. But the end is in sight." Novicki said that combatants were still coming forward to disarm in Sierra Leone's northern Bombali District, with 52 having disarmed on Wednesday. "As of now Bombali is still open for disarmament, but hopefully this weekend the camp in Makeni is going to be closed," she said. Novicki gave disarmament figures for the country from 18 May through 15 November as 11,246 RUF and 21,418 CDF. In the Western Area (during the first two weeks of November): 1,627 CDF and one RUF disarmed. In Tonkolili District, 1,387 RUF and 1,377 CDF surrendered their arms. In Kailahun District, 19 CDF disarmed on November 15, the first day of disarmament there. 418 CDF have disarmed in Pujehun and 1,124 in Zimmi, she said.

While delegates to Sierra Leone's National Consultative Conference deliberated this week over proposals on the electoral system and the peace process, one group — the Grassroots Awareness Organisation — demonstrated outside the conference hall to protest the "District Block" electoral system and to call for an interim transitional government to lead the country into next year's elections. "Inside the conference hall some of our representatives, they have denied them to voice out our views," the organisation's president, Lansana Korto Conteh, told the BBC. "They only selected few people who stand on their interests to talk for them, but not for the people. The people don’t have any representative inside there." But in a separate BBC interview, Prof. Joe Pemagbi, chairman of the National Commission for Democracy and Human Rights which organised the National Consultative Conference, insisted that the process was fair. "We have 22 political parties in this country. All of these political parties were invited to the conference," he said. "All the conclusions came from the people that participated in the conference, and most of them in fact came group work. And the groups were divided not along political party lines or regional lines or interest group lines." Pemagbi said an overwhelming majority of delegates had agreed to a resolution backing the District Block electoral system, which he explained would be both easier to conduct and less expensive than the constituency-based system. "The constitution states that parliamentary elections in this country should be by the first past the post, and the other one constituency-based elections," he said. "And for that to take place, a national census has to be conducted. And the last time it was conducted was in 1985, which is a long, long time ago, and there have been a lot of displacements in the country. To go back to a national population census before elections would take at least two years before elections. And people are anxious for elections. They don’t want to extend the life of the government and parliament again."

President Kabbah left for the Libyan capital Tripoli on Thursday for what was described as a two-day working visit, the Pan African News Agency reported. The president was accompanied by Economic and Development Minister Khadi Sesay, Foreign Minister Ahmed Ramadan Dumbuya, and Kanja Sesay, who heads the National Commission for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reintegration. Shortly after his arrival, Kabbah met with Libyan leader Colonel Mouammar Kadhafi. The news agency quoted presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai as saying the talks were expected to cover issues relating to reconstruction and economic development in Sierra Leone. In Tripoli, Libyan radio reported that the two sides had discussed ways to develop and strengthen bilateral cooperation, to activate economic agreements, to rebuild Sierra Leone, and to cooperate in the areas of fisheries, oil, industry and tourism.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2300 / 2450. [£] 2940 / 3402. Commercial Bank: [$] 2100 / 2325. [£] 3100 / 3400. Bank of Sierra Leone: [$] 2241 / 2286. [£] 3234 / 3302. Frandia: [$] 2300 / 2450 [£] 2950 / 3150. Continental: [$] 2300 / 2450 [£] 3100 / 3400. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2350 / 2400 [£] 3150 / 3400.

15 November: Groups from across Sierra Leone's diverse political and social spectrum wound up a three-day National Consultative Conference in Freetown Thursday with a number of proposals designed to clear the way for presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for next May. The over 250 delegates representing the government, political parties, the RUF, and civil society groups agreed to back the National Electoral Commission's proposed "District Block" proportional electoral system for the forthcoming election, but passed 25 consensus resolutions aimed at ensuring good governance as well as a free and democratic election process. The conference called for the disarmament of combatants to be completed on schedule, and for the government to lift the country's State of Emergency to give political parties adequate time to campaign. It also called for equal access to the media for all political parties, for the monitoring of elections, for the speedy resettlement of refugees and displaced persons, and for the restoration of authority to paramount chiefs and local officials. Delegates stressed the importance of ensuring an active role for women with a call for political parties to ensure that women formed at least 30 percent of their representation in each district. Other resolutions dealt with measures to restore confidence in institutions such as the police, the civil service and the judiciary; accountability in taxation and revenue collection, investment in agriculture, and controls on foreign investment.

Combatants were due to begin giving up their weapons in Kenema and Kailahun Districts on Thursday — the last of Sierra Leone's districts to down weapons since the disarmament process resumed last May. Under a timetable agreed upon during U.N.-brokered meetings between the warring parties, disarmament in the country should be complete by the end of the month. On Wednesday, UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande (pictured left) visited Kailahun town, where RUF leaders assured him they were committed to a full disarmament exercise. Opande also inspected the Kailahun demobilisation camp, where construction has fallen two weeks behind schedule due to bad roads and other logistical difficulties. The general later visited Koindu to verify reports that Guinean troops had deployed on Sierra Leonean territory. It was established that the Guineans were indeed present at the town of Yinga in Kissi Teng Chiefdom. Opande assured local leaders that the Sierra Leone Army would soon deploy in the border areas.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sahr Matturi will head Sierra Leone's delegation to talks with representatives of ECOWAS and the United Nations in New York on Friday for discussions on the peace process in Sierra Leone, a diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web. The meeting, the fifth in the series, had originally been scheduled for September, but was postponed following the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Friday's meeting will focus on progress in implementing the ceasefire agreed between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF in the Nigerian capital Abuja a year ago. Delegates will also discuss deployment of the U.N. peacekeeping force, Sierra Leone's Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme, and the return of equipment seized from UNAMSIL and ECOMOG peacekeepers last year by RUF rebels. The meeting will also review the humanitarian situation in the country, and the effects on Sierra Leone of recent developments in neighbouring Liberia and Guinea.

UNAMSIL's recently-deployed Pakistani battalion, PAKBATT 2, has opened a field hospital in Kailahun to serve both peacekeepers and local residents. On Wednesday, more than 2,000 patients from local communities received free treatment from Pakistani doctors, UNAMSIL said in a statement.

Sierra Leone's ambassador to Liberia has returned to Monrovia for the first time since he and his Guinean counterpart were expelled in March for unspecified acts "incompatible with their status," the Associated Press reported on Thursday. Ambassador Kemoh Salia-Bao said he was bringing "a message of peace, love, reconciliation and future coexistence" with Liberia. His return followed a meeting on Wednesday between Liberian President Charles Taylor and Sierra Leonean Foreign Minister Ahmed Ramadan Dumbuya, in which Liberia was invited to send military observers to help patrol the two countries' common border.

14 November: Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Sierra Leonean refugees face food shortages unless more contributions are received immediately, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said on Wednesday. Manuel da Silva, the WFP's Regional Director for West Africa, said his agency needed 100,000 tons of food for emergency operations next year, especially in the Mano River Union nations of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, where the WFP is assisting nearly a million persons displaced by years of conflict in the border regions. "Given lengthy procurement processes, donors need to pledge their contributions urgently to cover the amount of food aid required for the region," da Silva said in a statement issued in Dakar. He stressed that the situation in the sub-region remained fragile, and that food aid combined with the provision of agricultural seeds and tools was essential in enabling refugees to resume their lives. "Without food, there can be no sustainable peace, no democracy and no development. Without timely help, countries such as Sierra Leone may soon fall back into the cycle of violence and despair," he said.

Representatives of the government, opposition parties and civil society groups have continued to discuss Sierra Leone's electoral system on the second day of a three-day National Consultative Conference, opposition National Unity Party leader John Benjamin said on Wednesday. The National Electoral Commission, citing difficulties in redrawing constituency boundaries in time for next year's presidential and parliamentary elections, has proposed using a "District Block" system of proportional representation. "The constitution is saying people should be voted for based on the constituency system," Benjamin told the BBC. "We have told them that there are two type of elections now that they want to conduct at the same time. They have the presidential, then they have the parliamentary. We are saying that we can stagger the elections. We can do the presidential election, because that one covers the whole country and you have one party putting up one candidate. And thereafter you can take several months to work out the modalities of how you can do the parliamentary election. But they do not want to look at any other alternative." Benjamin also said that the lifting of the State of Emergency in March would leave parties insufficient time to campaign before the proposed May elections. "What we were telling them was that we should have this State of Emergency lifted completely, and we should have a free and peaceful country at least for six months so that we can reach our people and let them be properly educated, to make proper choice of who they vote for," he said. On Monday, Benjamin expressed fears that the government would ignore the conference's recommendations, and that this week's discussions would turn out to be merely an academic exercise with no practical meaning. But on Wednesday, he said the government was listening, if only reluctantly. "We want to believe that they are being forced to listen, because the very fact that we are holding this conference means they have started to listen," he said. "First they had said that even talking about the conference was treasonable. But now we are in the conference. I just came out of the conference, and we are having discussions. They are yet to be fruitful, but I believe towards the end of the conference the government will come to realise that we all mean well. We are all working for the same country and we will put Sierra Leone above every other interest."

13 November: A three-day National Consultative Conference aimed at bringing together political parties and civil society groups from across Sierra Leone's political and social spectrum got underway in Freetown on Tuesday. Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji (pictured right), the Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, opened the conference by calling on the more than 250 assembled delegates to concentrate on what they could achieve collectively rather than on what one particular constituency could gain from the talks. The conference's success, he said, "depends not only on the range of constituencies involved, but also the extent to which the conference is focused, as well as by the civility of the exchanges the conference generates." It's outcome, Adeniji said, would be judged strictly in terms of its national relevance. Organisers said the conference was aimed at charting the way forward for the achievement of peace, democracy, national recovery and development in a post-conflict Sierra Leone. In a BBC interview on Tuesday, Information Minister Dr. Cecil Blake (left) stressed his view that the conference was not an issue between the government and the opposition. "We are all converging to talk about Sierra Leone," said. "It is Sierra Leone first: putting the nation higher than everything." Blake said discussions so far on Tuesday had centered on next year's elections. "The National Electoral Commission had proposed the District Representation formula, but there are other views that are being expressed right now," he said. "The other option, of course, is the constituency-based election, but that involves a lot of logistical issues revolving mainly around resettlement of people who are displaced. There are displaced people internally, as well we still have people displaced in Guinea and in Liberia." Blake insisted that the government would take note of recommendations reached by the conference. "We have a very strong government representation at this meeting, and government is willing to discuss things," he said. "The only thing the government has said up to this point is that the outcome of the conference would not be binding on government. You know, this does not mean that if their recommendations meet that with the national interest, things that will sustain the peace, things that will ascertain that Sierra Leone enjoys peace — these are issues which any reasonable government would have to look into."

Two more political parties, the National Unity Party (NUP) and the Democratic Party (DP), have joined the six-member opposition coalition known as the Grand Alliance, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported on Tuesday. NUP leader John Benjamin (pictured right) said his party had decided to join the Alliance in order to present a credible opposition to the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party. "They are now going to see reason, that they are not going to have a walkover," he said. "The people have decided that the tribal sentiments and the regional sentiments are now going to be over, and basically we as the opposition, we are trying to come together so that we can give an alternative to the people." 

The destruction and reworking of over 7,600 weapons collected by U.N. peacekeepers into agricultural tools has been postponed while arrangements are made for symbolic acts of destruction, UNAMSIL said in a statement. The second phase of the weapons destruction programme was to have begun in Freetown on Monday with the assistance of GTZ and MAPCO and participation by ex-combatants. 

Several RUF ex-combatants turned over their weapons to U.N. peacekeepers at Magburaka on Tuesday in what UNAMSIL described as the final phase of disarmament in Tonkolili District. Later, UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande (pictured right) met with RUF interim leader General Issa Sesay and General Morris Kallon to discuss the upcoming disarmament exercise in Kailahun District. Sesay pledged that the RUF would hand over heavy weapons it captured from the ECOMOG force, including a vehicle-mounted MB-21 multi-barrel rocket launcher, the UNAMSIL statement said.

A total of 31,581 former combatants, including 3,655 children, have turned in their weapons through November 12, UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki told reporters in Freetown. The number includes 20,111 CDF, 10,976 RUF, 264 AFRC, 214 ex-SLA and 16 others. In Tonkolili District, 2,025 ex-combatants disarmed, including 1,249 CDF and 776 RUF. In the Western Area, 1,062 CDF disarmed between November 2 and 10.

11 November: 41 police officers were arrested Friday for allegedly harassing travellers and extorting bribes at police checkpoints, Pan African News Agency correspondent Pasco Temple reported on Sunday. According to Assistant Police Commissioner Richard Moigbeh, Friday's action was aimed at rooting out corruption in the police force, and he warned commuters against offering bribes to law enforcement officers. "Any member of the public engaged in the practice of inducing police personnel on duty will be arrested and handed over to the Anti-corruption Commission," Moigbeh was quoted as saying.

The North American branch of Sierra Leone's opposition All People's Congress (APC) party formally opened offices in the U.S. state of Maryland on Sunday, and also announced the launch of its temporary website: http://www.apc.homestead.com. The APC, under former presidents Siaka P. Stevens and Joseph Saidu Momoh, governed Sierra Leone from 1968 until 1992, when the country's civilian government was ousted in a military coup.

10 November: Representatives of United Nations agencies, international institutions, and the Sierra Leone government expressed their commitment Friday to support humanitarian and economic needs and the restoration of civil authority in Sierra Leone's diamond-rich Kono District, UNAMSIL said on Saturday. The donors meeting, which was held in Freetown and chaired by Vice President Albert Joe Demby, discussed a report commissioned by the National Recovery Committee and prepared following an assessment mission to the district in late September. Alan Doss, the U.N. Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Governance and Stabilisation, said the U.N. Development Programme would provide small grants to District Recovery Committees. Additional funds would be made available to provide capacity support for returning government officials, he added. Doss said UNAMSIL's civilian police would set up committees in Kono to assist the recently-returned Sierra Leone Police in their work, and that UNAMSIL's Civil Affairs staff would help to restore the district administration. A representative of the British Department for International Development (DFID), said his department would support plans to accelerate the return of Kono paramount chiefs to the district. He also stressed the importance of providing shelter for returnees and for internally displaced persons in Kono District. A European Union delegate pledged support for the rehabilitation of roads and resettlement plans in agriculture, education and health. Deputy Finance Minister M.B. Daramy noted that debt relief assistance over the next three years had freed up a considerable amount of revenue, and he pledged the government's support. The assessment team noted that Kono, along with Kailahun District, had suffered from considerable devastation and had experienced the greatest level of displacement, with much of its population currently living in displaced camps and host communities throughout the country. The team noted an improved security situation with the recent deployment of U.N. peacekeepers and Sierra Leone police, and with the recent completion of disarmament in Kono. This had led to the spontaneous return of many people to the district.

The United Nations will begin the second phase of its arms destruction programme on Monday at the Nigerian Battalion Headquarters in Freetown, UNAMSIL said in a statement on Saturday. Over 7,600 weapons collected during the disarmament process will be destroyed with the assistance of GTZ and MAPCO. As in phase one of the programme, the weapons will be converted into agricultural implements with the participation of ex-combatant trainees from the GTZ and MAPCO training centers. The tools will then be distributed to beneficiaries of reintegration programmes. The process is expected to continue through December 10. Meanwhile, UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki was quoted as saying Friday that a total of 30,295 ex-combatants had turned in their weapons, exceeding U.N. estimates of the number of combatants to be disarmed. According to the Associated Press, Novicki said the U.N. was pleased with recent cooperation by the rebels and the pro-government Civil Defence Forces, and she expressed hope that disarmament would be completed nationwide by the November 30 deadline.  

9 November: Ibrahim Bah, alleged to be the RUF's chief diamond dealer and named by the Washington Post last week as having introduced the rebel group to diamond buyers from the terrorist al-Qaeda movement, has denied the charges. "I only heard of bin Laden and al-Qaeda after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States," Bah told the Associated Press late Thursday. Bah, speaking by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location, acknowledged that he fought for the RUF from 1991 to 1996, but he claimed he had no ties to terrorists. "I am ready to meet the American investigators whenever and wherever they want on all issues, and to show them that I have no relations with bin Laden or any other terrorist movement," he said. But Bah acknowledged that the RUF was a loosely structured movement and he said some of the rebels might have "unknowingly" sold diamonds to persons linked to bin Ladin. Bah denied he had any role in diamond smuggling, and he insisted that he had had no contact with the RUF since the rebels signed the Lomé Peace Accord in July 1999. Bah was, in fact, part of the RUF's delegation to the Lomé peace talks, and in February 1999 even signed a joint communiqué with the U.N., describing himself as Senior Military Advisor to the RUF. Earlier this month, an RUF source acknowledged the relationship with Bah, but told the Sierra Leone Web that the rebel group had been unable to contact him for the past six months. Bah, described as a Senegalese national living in Ouagadougou, told the Associated Press he had left Burkina Faso and was looking to start a used car dealership. He did not say where.

The Bank of Sierra Leone formally unveiled its website Friday morning at a ceremony in Freetown. The website, bankofsierraleone.com, will provide information on the Sierra Leonean economy and on the country's  banking and financial system.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2300 / 2450. [£] 2963 / 3430. Commercial Bank: [$] 2300 / 2450. [£] 3150 / 3450. Bank of Sierra Leone: [$] 2217 / 2262. [£] 3249 / 3316. Frandia: [$] 2300 / 2450 [£] 2950 / 3150. Continental: [$] 2300 / 2450 [£] 3250 / 3500. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2350 / 2450 [£] 3300 / 3400.

8 November: Two Zambian UNAMSIL staff officers and a Bulgarian United Nations volunteer were among seven persons presumed killed Wednesday when a UNAMSIL Mi-8 helicopter crashed into the sea at about 7:50 in the evening, about five minutes after taking off from the Mammy Yoko helipad in western Freetown. The aircraft was on its way to Lungi International Airport to pick up the visiting Zambian armed forces commander, Lieutenant-General Geojago Musengule. The passengers of U.N. Flight 103 were identified as Lieutenant-Colonel Kasonde Mwale and Lieutenant-Colonel Timmy Kasamu of Zambia and Dimitar Atanassov of Bulgaria. The helicopter carried a four-man Ukrainian crew, named by UNAMSIL as Lieutenant-Colonel Vladimir Savchuk, Captain Sergei Filippovich, Sergei Ayushev and Andrei Kulikov. Three bodies were recovered late Wednesday and search efforts continued on Thursday. Witnesses reported hearing a loud explosion just prior to the crash. UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki, interviewed on the BBC Focus on Africa programme, said an investigation was underway, but that there was no reason to believe that the crash was anything other than an accident. "The helicopter was en route to Lungi Airport when it plunged into the sea very close to where our headquarters office is, near Man of War Bay on the Aberdeen Peninsula," she said. "We had seven UNAMSIL personnel on board the aircraft including a four person crew, two military staff and one civilian United Nations volunteer. When the aircraft crashed we started a very extensive search last evening to try to recover the passengers. We were able to recover three bodies and we are now in the process of undergoing formal identification procedures on the bodies, and there are four victims that remain unaccounted for at this time."

Representatives of the Sierra Leone government and the RUF, who met at the Mammy Yoko Hotel in Freetown Thursday under the chairmanship of the United Nations, have agreed to take "immediate action to facilitate fast disarmament" in all districts by November 30, according to a communiqué issued following the meeting. The two sides agreed that weapons not covered under the disarmament programme — primarily shotguns — would be collected in a separate programme to be implemented between November 15 and 30. They agreed to conduct "a wide publicity and sensitisation effort" in advance of the weapons collection programme. In a communiqué issued at the conclusion of the seventh Tripartite meeting, the two parties formally declared Koinadugu and Moyamba Districts disarmed. Disarmament will be considered complete in the Western Area and in Bo and Bombali District as of November 10. There was concern, however, that leaders of the warring factions had not clearly informed their combatants of the agreed criteria for disarmament. Both the government and the RUF reaffirmed their decision, taken at the last meeting, to complete disarming combatants in Tonkolili and Pujehun Districts by November 14 and to carry out disarmament exercises in Kenema and Kailahun Districts between November 15 and 30. The government was urged to expedite deployment of police into all areas where disarmament had been completed, and the two sides appealed to the international community to support the country's Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme, and in particular to accelerate disbursement of pledges already made.

The United Nations has sent the government of Sierra Leone a draft agreement and statute for the setting up of a proposed Special Court to try those deemed most responsible for serious crimes committed during Sierra Leone's civil war, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Hans Corell told the Security Council on Thursday. He added that a planning mission would be sent to Sierra Leone from the U.N. headquarters at the end of the month. In a statement read out by Council President Ambassador Patricia Durrant of Jamaica following the closed-door consultations, members said more funds were needed to establish the court, and said justice for the people of Sierra Leone should not be held up. "Members expressed concerns that delay in establishing the Court is a delay in bringing justice and reconciliation to the people of Sierra Leone," she said. Council members noted that additional funding was still required to set up the court, but expressed appreciation to those nations who had pledged contributions for it. A U.N. spokesman said $16.8 million was being sought for the first year of the court's operation. So far, he said, $10 million had been received. Some other money was available, but with conditions attached, he added. "That has resulted in our having to have further negotiations with the donors. So we aren't in a position yet to say we have the full $15 million," the spokesman said.

The U.S. House of Representatives could act as early as next Tuesday to pass a bill designed to curb the import of so-called "conflict diamonds," widely blamed for fueling conflicts in Sierra Leone, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, three key sponsors of the legislation said in a press conference on Thursday. Senator Dick Durbin, the Senate sponsor; Senate Mike DeWine, and Representative Tony Hall, the House sponsor, urged passage of the legislation, pointing to last week's Washington Post report which alleged that fugitive Saudi Osama bin Ladin's terrorist al-Qaeda network had purchased millions of dollars worth of diamonds from RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. Al-Qaeda is widely blamed for the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. "These diamonds are dipped in blood," said Hall. "We all want to do something about what happened to us September 11. I mean, we’re frustrated and we’re ready to go. Well this is something we can do something about. We can start questioning where these diamonds have come from. We can push legislation now for the first time that’s going to bring regulation." Durbin said the bill would complement U.S. efforts already underway to block the terrorists' funding sources. "If we’re going to cut off funds used by terrorists to carry out their attacks, we can’t ignore the millions of dollars they earn from the illegal diamond trade," he said. "That means that no diamond can make it from the bloody hands of a Sierra Leone rebel to the jewelry case at a local mall."

7 November: A United Nations Mi-8 helicopter crashed into the sea shortly after taking off from Freetown Wednesday evening. On board were four crew members, two military observers, and a civilian, UNAMSIL said in a statement. Three Sierra Leone Army Maritime Wing patrol boats mounted a search-and-rescue operation, aided by illumination from UNAMSIL Mi-8 helicopters. Three bodies were located before the operation was suspended at midnight. The search was due to resume at first light Thursday morning. There were no reports of survivors. According to one unconfirmed report, the chopper exploded in mid-air before plunging into the estuary. One body pulled from the water was "badly cut up" and smelled of petrol, an eyewitness told the Sierra Leone Web. UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki told the BBC that an enquiry would be launched, but that there was no reason to suspect anything other than engine failure as the cause of the accident. The Russian-built Mi-8 helicopter took off from the Mammy Yoko helipad at UNAMSIL headquarters, and was on its way to Lungi when when it crashed about 500 meters north of Man of War Bay, Aberdeen Peninsula. 

The Sierra Leone government has released 15 detained members of the RUF in advance of Thursday tripartite meeting in Freetown. The most senior of those released were Peter Vandy, who served briefly as Minister of Lands, Housing and the Environment from December 1999 to May 2000; Dr. Emmanuel Fabai, former Deputy Minister of Rural Development and Local Government, and Mayila Yansaneh, the leader of the RUF's women's wing. The RUF members were detained in May 2000 and held without charge under the country's State of Public Emergency regulations after the rebel group kidnapped more than 500 U.N. peacekeepers and resumed hostilities. According to the BBC, RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi welcomed the releases, but called for all remaining RUF detainees to be freed. "We are in the process of transforming our movement into a political party, so we want our colleagues to help facilitate the process," he was quoted as saying. In recent months, the government has released dozens of RUF members and sympathisers, and according to the Associated Press, Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said most of those detained had now been released. "The RUF has been making requests to the government for the release of their members from detention, and the government's response has been that we will consider their request in the light of the progress being made in the peace process," he said. "Today's release is pleasing and will cause no harm to security." 

Four Sierra Leoneans are reported to be among 13 would-be immigrants who died Wednesday when their boat capsized in the Aegean Sea off the western coast of Turkey, the Reuters news agency reported, quoting Turkish officials. "The accident occurred early this morning because a total of 16 people were on board a very small boat," a coast guard official said. The boat was headed towards the Greek island of Kos when it overturned. Eight Nigerians also died, along the with boat's captain, a Turkish national.

6 November: Transport and Communications Minister Momoh Pujeh has been suspended from his post following his arrest last week on charges of dealing in illicit diamonds, Voice of America correspondent Kelvin Lewis reported on Tuesday. Pujeh and his wife were taken into custody on Thursday at the behest of the country's Anti-Corruption Commission, which alleged that the minister had been involved in illegal mining in Kenema District, and had smuggled the gems out of the country. "The (government) notice states that the suspension is effective Friday, 2nd November, and it will last until the conclusion of the current investigation which the Anti-Corruption Commission is conducting into the minister’s conduct," Lewis said.

Representatives of the Sierra Leone government, the RUF, and UNAMSIL will meet in Freetown Thursday for the seventh in a series of Tripartite talks on the disarmament process, UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki (pictured right) said on Tuesday. On the agenda is the completion of disarmament in Moyamba, Koinadugu, Bo and Bombali Districts, as well as in areas of Port Loko District. The delegations will also examine the status of disarmament in Kamakwie and in the Western Area, as well as reintegration programmes and the issuance of reinsertion benefits. A review of the peace process and issues related to national recovery and stabilisation are also on the agenda.   

Eldred Collins, the former RUF Party (RUFP) spokesman, has again denied allegations that the rebel group sold diamonds to representatives of the terrorist al-Qaeda network, thought responsible for last September's attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. The allegations first surfaced last week in the Washington Post, which reported that al-Qaeda had purchased millions of dollars worth of diamonds from RUF officials over the past three years, using a safe house in Liberia to conduct the transactions. Since July, the report said, the group had stepped up its purchases, paying a premium price for the diamonds in an apparent move to safeguard its assets by converting its cash into the easily concealable gemstones. "This accusation is false. It is very devilish and it is intended to destroy the image of the RUFP," Collins told the BBC. He added that two of those named by the Post, former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie and Ibrahim Bah, were not members of the rebel movement. "We will never get ourselves connected with any terrorist group, organisation, because the RUFP is an organisation that have come for progress and development in our country," he said. "As far as the RUF is concerned, we have no connection with al-Qaeda. We don’t know anything, and that is very dangerous propaganda against the RUFP, and we think that it is being used by the anti-RUFP do destroy the image of the movement." Collins said he was not concerned about possible retaliation by the United States, which has vowed to track down those connected with September's terrorist attacks. "We are not worried because in fact we are concerned we have no dealings with this terrorist movement," he said. "We are not terrorists. We are Sierra Leoneans. The war is now over. We are thinking about nation building...We did condemn the September 11 terrorist attack because we are not terrorists. I mean, people can’t go around killing people. That is why the latest press statement that we gave we are calling for the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) so the world will know the truth, who really committed atrocities in Sierra Leone."

411 CDF ex-combatants disarmed in the Western Area between November 2 and 5, UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki told journalists on Tuesday. At Kamakwie, in Bombali District's Sella Limba Chiefdom, 522 RUF and one CDF handed over their weapons between October 29 and November 3, she said. During a visit over the weekend to Masingbi, in Tonkolili District, CDF combatants told the local UNAMSIL sector commander that they had not received instructions to disarm from the CDF High Command. This prompted UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande to travel to Bo, accompanied by CDF National Public Relations Officer Charles Moiwo, in an effort to resolve the problem. Moiwo ordered the CDF Task Force Commander in Masingbi to begin disarming his men as of November 5, Novicki said.

The Islamic Development Bank has is extending Sierra Leone a $3 million loan to support development in the education and transportation sectors, the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported on Tuesday. "The loan will be used to build primary schools in the north and east of the country and to buy 17 buses and ten trucks for the Road Transport Corporation," Deputy Finance Minister Mohamed Daramy was quoted as saying. He said he signed the loan agreement during a meeting last month of the Bank's board of governors in Algiers. The money is expected to be available in the next two or three months, Daramy said.

5 November: The Interpol expert on the United Nations Security Council's Panel of Experts on Liberia said Monday that while the Panel had not investigated a link between RUF rebels and the al-Qaeda network, allegations that the terrorist group had bought diamonds from the RUF were plausible. "Wherever diamonds are, be it Angola, be it in Sierra Leone or any place, definitely they will try to use that channel. That is common sense," Harjit Singh Sandhu told reporters following a Security Council briefing in New York. The Council met in open session Monday to discuss the findings of the five-member Panel, set up to investigate whether Liberia had complied with U.N. sanctions imposed earlier this year for that country's role in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade, and for its alleged support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. In its report, released late last month, the Panel concluded that Liberia had engaged in sanctions-busting, and had failed to sever its ties with the RUF. Martin Chungong Ayafor, the Panel chairman, told the Council that in order to achieve a lasting peace in Sierra Leone, Liberia's total disengagement from the rebel group would have to be ensured. Implementing the proposals made by the previous Panel of Experts on Sierra Leone, he said, would help further the peace process in the Mano River Union, which consists of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Ayafor noted that while the situation in the sub-region had improved in recent months, Sierra Leone could still lapse back into conflict if the RUF refused to give up its hold on the country's diamond regions. Last week, the Washington Post alleged that over the past three years RUF leaders had sold millions of dollars in illicit diamonds to al-Qaeda representatives, using a safe house in Monrovia protected by the Liberian government. Ayafor said the Panel had not investigated the al-Qaeda link, because its work was completed prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, for which al-Qaeda has been widely blamed. But, he said, the Panel would investigate the links if the Council so wished.  Meanwhile, Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan dismissed the Panel's report as "void of any substantive relevance," and told the Council the Panel had exceeded its mandate of evaluating whether the Liberian government had complied with U.N. sanctions. He said the report covered activities which preceded the U.N. sanctions resolution, and failed to address in any meaningful way the question of compliance by the Liberian government or on measurable progress toward the objectives of the resolution. The minister insisted Liberia had taken a positive role in the peace process in Sierra Leone and in the region, and said Liberians had been hurt by U.N. embargoes. "What will this council do to help encourage, consolidate and sustain, in a positive way, the (peace) progress achieved?" he asked.

Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said Monday that documents seized last year from the home of RUF leader Foday Sankoh confirmed allegations that the rebel group had traded in diamonds with Ibrahim Bah, a Senegalese rebel with ties to the RUF, but said the documents contained nothing to support allegations that the rebel group was involved with al-Qaeda, the terrorist group blamed for the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "Police discovered valuable documents ...some of which were diamond business transactions between Ibrahim Bah and Corporal Foday Sankoh," Berewa said. "That Ibrahim Bah was doing diamond business with the RUF is absolutely correct. But what the government cannot confirm is the extended relationship with the RUF and Osama bin Laden through Ibrahim Bah." According to a report last week by the Washington Post, Bah had regularly served as an intermediary for the RUF's diamond transactions, and allegedly introduced RUF officials to al-Qaeda representatives in late 1998. According to the Reuters news agency, Berewa said it was possible current RUF leaders might have been unaware of the relationship between Bah and Sankoh, explaining why the rebel group issued a denial. But in a BBC interview on Monday, Washington Post reporter Doug Farah suggested that the relationship between the RUF and al-Qaeda continued until the recent past. "It has gone on until very recently," he said. "It probably has now stopped, but through earlier this month or late last month it was still going on." 

4 November: Four years ago, following the May 1997 coup which ousted Sierra Leone's civilian government, it was Eldred Collins who broadcast an apology to the nation for atrocities committed by the Revolutionary United Front against the country's civilian population. "We looked at our brothers and killed them in cold blood, we removed our sisters from their hiding places to undo their femininity, we slaughtered our mothers and butchered our fathers," he said at the time. But following allegations Friday by the Washington Post that over the past three years the RUF had sold millions of dollars worth of diamonds to al-Qaeda, the terrorist network thought responsible for the September 11 attacks in the United States, the former RUF Party spokesman denied his movement had any involvement in terrorism or conscious links to terrorist organisations. "I want to say that the RUFP, and I want to state categorically clear, that we have at no time either operated as a terrorist group or with a terrorist group," Collins said in a statement carried by the Voice of America. Collins acknowledged, however, that the RUF might have unwittingly engaged in diamond transactions with representatives of al-Qaeda. Collins, who was detained shortly after the peace process broke down in May 2000 and released from prison just this past September, called for the release of detained RUF leader Foday Sankoh. "It is important at this particular time in the life of the RUF in the transformation process that our leader should be with us so that he can further the political process," he said. "When the (Lomé) accord was signed in 1999, it was said by the leader that the war in Sierra Leone is over, there should be no more fighting, and now we should come now into the political process. So we believe that if he’s released he will be of more instrumental to see that the RUFP party forge ahead." Collins acknowledged that many had held Sankoh responsible for the slow pace of disarmament following the peace agreement, but he denied the RUF leader was to blame. "He was always speaking about peace, but people did not believe him," Collins said. "People did not trust him. But we know that he wanted peace. So now that disarmament is coming to an end, we are asking, we are appealing for he and the other RUF people who remain at Pademba Road to be released so that we can further our political objectives."

3 November: The United Nations Security Council reaffirmed Friday that Liberia must comply with U.N. demands to stop supporting Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. In a statement read out by Council President Patricia Durrant of Jamaica following a briefing on the likely humanitarian impact of increased sanctions, Council members said they were committed to monitoring the implementation of Resolution 1543, which demanded that Liberia cut its ties to the RUF and to expel rebel leaders from the country. The Liberian government has denied backing the RUF, and officials say they have complied with U.N. demands. But a report last month by a U.N. Panel of Experts suggests a continuing relationship between RUF leaders and the government of Liberian President Charles Taylor. Friday's statement noted that the situation in the region had improved. But it also expressed concern over the worsening humanitarian situation in Liberia, and members stressed the need for more international funds to help the country's civilian population.

Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited will reportedly remove its ships from the Liberian Registry after a U.N. Panel of Experts found last month that the Liberian government had used the registry to fund illegal arms purchases, the leader of the International Transport Workers Federation said on Saturday. In its report to the Security Council, the Panel alleged that Maritime Affairs Commissioner Benoni Urey had diverted $925,000 into non-governmental accounts, in violation of U.N. sanctions. The Panel suggested that Urey and his Maritime Affairs Bureau, were "little more than a cash extraction operation and cover from which to fund and organize opaque off-budget expenditures including for sanctions-busting." The Security Council imposed new sanctions on Liberia earlier this year for that country's role in the illegal arms-for-diamonds trade, and because of the government's alleged support for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels. The Liberian government has denied the charges, and insists it has complied with U.N. demands. Last week, in a BBC interview, Urey rejected the Panel's recommendation that funds from the registry be placed in an escrow account. "(The Security Council) knows that we as a country have our sovereignty," he said. "It’s our right to decide what we do with our money...Nobody in Liberia has ever complained about Maritime Funds. Never have anybody, the people, the dissidents, the opposition, they’re very comfortable with how we run the Maritime Programme. There’s complete transparency."

The Liberian government has rejected allegations of involvement with Sierra Leone's RUF rebels in selling diamonds to al-Qaeda, the terrorist organisation controlled by Saudi fugitive Osama bin Ladin thought responsible for September's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "The Liberian government views these claims as part of an organised smear propaganda campaign intended to discredit this administration and bring it into international disrepute," a statement said. According to the Washington Post, RUF officials met al-Qaeda representatives at a safe house in Monrovia protected by the Liberian government, where they exchanged diamonds for briefcases of cash. Liberian President Charles Taylor, the Post alleged, "receives a commission on each transaction in Monrovia." Taylor has repeatedly denied involvement in the illicit diamond trade.

Major Vanessa Lang, who died in a helicopter crash near Kenema last month, was laid to rest in her native Britain on Friday with full military honours. Lang, who was Media Operations Officer for the for the British-led International Military Assistance and Training Team (IMATT), was a passenger aboard a Sierra Leone Army Mi-24 helicopter Hind gunship when it crashed on October 19 in a swamp at Bandama village during a routine reconnaissance mission. According to the Press Association news, her funeral was held at St Wilfred's Garrison Church in Strensell, near York, and she was buried at the nearby Haxby Cemetery.

2 November: Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front announced plans Friday to set up a four-member panel to investigate allegations that RUF officials have sold millions of dollars worth of diamonds to the terrorist al-Qaeda network. Al-Qaeda, headed by the fugitive Osama bin Laden, has been blamed for attacks in Africa, the Middle East and North America, and most recently for the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Omrie Golley (pictured left), the chairman of the RUF's Political and Peace Council, said he would lead the investigation, and he promised that the panel's findings would be turned over to the governments of Sierra Leone and the United States. "It’s quite clear that these are very serious allegations, and at this very important time in our political transformation we do not wish to be associated in any way, directly or indirectly, with anyone who is trading with international terrorists, either wittingly or unwittingly," he said, adding: "I’m going to Makeni tomorrow to start the investigations." The allegations, made Friday by the Washington Post, suggested that beginning in July diamond dealers had begun buying far more diamonds than before and paying a premium price for them, raising suspicions that al-Qaeda was attempting to protect its assets by converting its cash into gemstones. But Golley noted that two of the RUF officials named by the Post — Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie and Ibrahim Bah — had left the rebel movement. "The interim leadership of the RUF is deeply committed to the peace process as has been exemplified by its commitment to the disarmament process, and its commitment to the transformation of the RUF into a political party," he said. "This will continue and this remains our focus at the moment." Meanwhile, RUF interim leader General Issa Sesay (left) has denied any RUF dealings with al-Qaeda. "We would never do business with this type of people, and I have no knowledge with that, and I have no business with them," he told Radio France International. "We have nothing to do with them, you know, as far as I’m concerned with the present peace process in Sierra Leone, and even as far as talking of 1998 or 1999, we have no idea. We have no idea with being in contact with these people you’re talking of."

Illicit diamonds mined by RUF rebels in Sierra Leone have poured millions of dollars into the coffers of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, blamed for last September's terrorist attacks in the United States, the Washington Post said on Friday. The Post quoted U.S. and European intelligence sources as saying that since July, al-Qaeda had begun paying premium prices for diamonds in an apparent effort to convert its cash to the more easily concealable gemstones. The broker, according to the Post, is Ibrahim Bah, a Libyan-trained Senegalese rebel with ties to Hezbollah, who in the 1970s and 1980s fought with rebel groups in Senegal's Casamance, in Afghanistan and in southern Lebanon before returning to Libya in the late 1980s. He later took part in conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Bah, who currently resides in Ouagadougou, is also said to be the RUF's principal diamond dealer, and it was he who reportedly introduced RUF officials to representatives of al-Qaeda in September 1998. And it is Bah who, intelligence sources say, continues to act as a conduit for the sale of RUF diamonds to representatives of Hezbollah and al-Qaeda. "Small packets of diamonds, often wrapped in rags or plastic sheets, are taken by senior RUF commanders across the porous Liberian border to Monrovia," the Post said. "There, at a safe house protected by the Liberian government, the diamonds are exchanged for briefcases of cash brought by diamond dealers who fly several times a month from Belgium to Monrovia, where they are escorted by special state security through customs and immigration control." The Post quoted sources in the diamond trade as estimating that the RUF receives less than ten percent of the market value of the diamonds, paid mostly in the form of weapons, food and medicine. Liberian President Charles Taylor is said to receive a commission on each transaction in Monrovia, while Bah and other brokers share the rest. "Even if only ten percent went to terrorist organisations, you are talking about millions of dollars in virtually untraceable funds every year," a European investigator said. "That is enough to keep a lot of people going."

Diamond producing and importing nations have moved closer to agreement on ways to curb the trade in illicit "conflict diamonds" blamed for fueling wars in Africa, but reservations by the United States may stall a proposed deal, the Reuters news agency reported. Reuters said there was broad agreement among delegates meeting in Luanda, Angola this week on a certificate of origin scheme to ensure that diamonds had been mined legitimately. The certificates would accompany each parcel of stones, with additional certificates added from each country the diamonds traversed. The United States, however, raised concerns that the proposed certificates would be incompatible with World Trade Organisation regulations. "The question is whether this sets up a closed system and if a country which did not issue a certificate would not be able to import or export," a U.S. delegate said, but added: "We intend to comply with the fundamental obligations to adopt systems of control designed to eliminate conflict diamonds from the trade." The industry also agreed to "a range of internal controls to give effect to the international certification scheme as well as on detailed provisions on cooperation and transparency." The next meeting of the so-called Kimberly Process will take place on November 26 in Botswana. A formal proposal for a certification scheme will be presented to the United Nations in December.

After some initial glitches, disarmament in the Western Area has got off to "a very, very successful" start, BBC Freetown correspondent Lansana Fofana reported on Friday. "I visited some of the disarmament centers, including the Brima Attouga stadium in the east end of town," Fofana said. "There, the process got underway badly. The ex-combatants did not understand the procedure and they were protesting. But eventually 150 of them were lined up and they were giving up their guns whilst I was there." He said the majority of ex-combatants in the Western Area were members of the pro-government Civil Defence Force. "They have given a figure of 1,000 (to be disarmed)," Fofana said. "Some people think it could be in excess of that. Others think they may not have the weapons to meet that 1,000 target. But all said and done, there is a general feeling that the ex-combatants are turning in their guns and it’s going on well." Freetown has been designated a "weapons-free zone," but Fofana pointed to the incidence of armed robberies as evidence that the city was "awash with arms."  "This (disarmament) process is very significant to rid this city of guns, because armed robbery has taken a very high toll on people, and people are worried that if it is not contained and guns are not taken from people, then the situation might deteriorate further," he said.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2300 / 2400. [£] 2829 / 3251. Commercial Bank: [$] 2250 / 2450. [£] 3100 / 3400. Bank of Sierra Leone: [$] 2217 / 2262. [£] 3249 / 3316. Frandia: [$] 2320 / 2450 [£] 2950 / 3150. Continental: [$] 2300 / 2450 [£] 3100 / 3400. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2350 / 2400 [£] 3150 / 3400.

1 November: Transport and Communications Minister Momoh Pujeh, together with his wife Mary, was arrested Thursday on charges of illicit diamond mining in Kenema District, according to a statement issued by Anti-Corruption Commissioner Valentine Collier. According to the Associated Press, the Commission alleged that Momoh possessed "a large quantity of diamonds" but gave no specifics. "It is further alleged that these diamonds have been sold abroad illegally, thereby depriving the government and people of Sierra Leone of much needed revenue," the statement said. According to the BBC, Pujuh is alleged to have smuggled diamonds to the United States. The Associated Press quoted officials at the presidency as saying that the government would await further details before deciding whether to dismiss the minister.

About 59 RUF ex-combatants disarmed in and around the area of Masingbi Thursday, on the first day of disarmament in Tonkolili District, RUF Political and Peace Council chairman Omrie Golley told the Sierra Leone Web. "Disarmament will continue tomorrow, and will carry on until the 14th of November, at which time we feel certain that all our ex-combatants in that area would have disarmed," he said. A two-week disarmament exise was also due to kick off in the CDF-controlled Pujehun District on Thursday, while a one-week disarmament period was scheduled to begin in the Western Area. Disarmament in the last two districts, Kenema and Kailahun, is slated to start on November 15 and run through the end of the month.