The Sierra Leone Web

Cape_Lighthouse
 

December 2001
 

31 December: Sierra Leone's police Inspector-General Keith Biddle has been awarded the Order of the British Empire "for services to law and order in Sierra Leone." Biddle, a British national, was named in the New Year's honours list which was published on Monday. He first came to Sierra Leone in 1998 as an advisor to the Sierra Leone Police, taking over as inspector-general in July 1999. Since then, he has worked to bring an increased level of professionalism to the police force and to prepare it for its role in re-establishing government control over the war-torn country. In an interview last June with the Sierra Leone Web, Biddle expressed guarded optimism about the task ahead. "I don't feel pessimistic about it. I'm relatively optimistic," he said. "We've got some outstanding young police officers, and there's no doubt that we can actually make a lot of progress. But there's a lot more hard work to do. And if we really make a big omelet we've got to break a lot more eggs."

UNAMSIL's deputy force commander said Monday that the withdrawal of the Pakistani peacekeeping contingent would be "a big blow to UNAMSIL," the Agence France-Presse reported. "I hope it doesn't happen and hope the problem (the military confrontation between Pakistan and India) will be resolved so that we can continue. This will be a big setback to UNAMSIL and the peace process in Sierra Leone," Major-General Martin Luther Agwai was quoted as saying. Last week the Associated Press, quoting unnamed Pakistani diplomatic and military sources, reported that Pakistan had informed the United Nations of its intention to pull its 4,266-member contingent out of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone. Agwai stressed that he had received no official word Pakistan was planning to leave. "We have actually envisaged it may happen and we have started making contingency plans but...I have heard nothing officially from any source or UN headquarters that Pakistan is going to withdraw its forces from UNAMSIL," Agwai said. 

Disarmament resumed on Sunday after stalling again briefly this week following clashes in Sierra Leone's eastern Kono District which left seven persons dead and some 40 injured, deputy UNAMSIL spokesman Patrick Coker said in a Voice of America interview broadcast on Monday. Coker said 209 RUF combatants disarmed Sunday, while 609 members of the CDF in Kailahun and Kenema Districts also turned in their arms. Because of the interruption, the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration announced late last week that the deadline for disarmament in the country had been pushed back by a week. "Disarmament should have ended and the date given now is the 5th of January, to which all combatants have been encouraged to join the programme," Coker said. "I must say that we have seen a positive response from combatants within the rank and file who have shown interest in joining the programme before that date. Of course, the reason it’s been pushed back is for the fact that recently we’ve had little skirmishes in the Kono area. But that has been put to a good control and the troops are dominating the ground, and the combatants have recommitted themselves to the peace process." According to UNAMSIL, 42,167 combatants have given up their arms since the beginning of the year.

Nigeria is scheduled to host the 14th West African Cricket Council Quadrangular next April, the Nigerian newspaper This Day reported on Monday. Sierra Leone, the reigning champions, successfully defended their title in Freetown last April against teams from Nigeria, Ghana and Gambia.

Bulgarian police on Sunday arrested 15 illegal Afghan immigrants who were hiding in an apartment in Sofia rented by a Sierra Leonean national, the Associated Press reported. Bulgaria is a major transit point for illegal immigrants attempting to enter Western Europe and North America.

28 December: Disarmament has stalled once again in the eastern diamond-mining town of Tongo Field following clashes in Koidu last week between RUF and CDF ex-combatants which left at least five persons dead and another 40 wounded, deputy UNAMSIL spokesman Patrick Coker (pictured left) was quoted as telling journalists on Friday. "Disarmament has not yet restarted though efforts continue to be made by UNAMSIL to get the RUF combatants to recommence," Coker said. He added, however, that the combatants were due to begin handing in their weapons again on Saturday. Meanwhile, Reuters quoted acting UNAMSIL force commander Major-General Martin Agwai as saying that the December 30 deadline for disarmament throughout Sierra Leone had been extended by seven days.

Pakistan has informed the United Nations that it will pull its peacekeeping troops out of Sierra Leone, the Associated Press reported on Friday, quoting two unnamed senior Pakistani officials. UNAMSIL's 4,266-strong Pakistani peacekeeping contingent arrived in Sierra Leone last July and August, and its three battalions are deployed at Koidu, Kailahun and Daru in the country's eastern Kono and Kailahun Districts. Pakistan's decision to pull out of Sierra Leone appears to be linked to increased tensions between Pakistan and its neighbour India following a December 13 terrorist attack on India's parliament by a group which India has alleged had Pakistani backing. The two countries have rushed troops and ballistic missiles to their common border, where there are near-daily exchanges of gunfire. Pakistan has also told the United States it plans to re-deploy 30,000 to 40,000 troops from provinces bordering Afghanistan to its frontier with India, and that it may need to use at least one of the air bases the country had handed over to U.S. forces for military operations in Afghanistan, the Associated Press said.

The commander of the Liberian army has been dispatched to Grand Cape Mount County local residents told parliamentarians that harassment by Liberian soldiers was forcing both Liberians and Sierra Leonean refugees across the border into Sierra Leone, BBC Monrovia correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh reported. "They say that security officers in the region are advising civilians that the area is unsafe because of rebel activities and asking them to leave their houses," Paye-Layleh said. "As soon as they leave, the security forces move in to loot. They say that because of the behaviour of the security forces, lots of people are crossing into Sierra Leone to seek sanctuary." The German Press Agency (DPA) reported that intense fighting between government and rebel forces in Grand Cape Mount County was causing thousands of people to flee their homes. "Officers have advised the people to leave their villages and towns because they can't guarantee their safety there," said James Lomei, a spokesman for the district authorities. "The people are fleeing without clothing or food," he added. Defence Minister Daniel Chea confirmed Friday that fighting was taking place in towns near the country's borders with Sierra Leone and Guinea. "There is fierce fighting going on at present in these towns and it is our determination to remove this bunch of terrorists from our soil," he told the Reuters news agency. Meanwhile, the Pan African News Agency quoted a military spokesman as saying that the Sierra Leone Army had stepped up its presence in eastern Kenema and Pujehun Districts in order to prevent any cross-border incursion into Sierra Leone.

27 December: Kono paramount chiefs met in Koidu Wednesday with representatives of the RUF, the Donso militia, and the militant Movement of Concerned Kono Youths, in an effort to resolve differences which spilled over into violence last week in the eastern diamond mining town. The meeting, chaired by the United Nations, identified indiscriminate mining and revenue collection as the cause of the clashes, UNAMSIL said in a statement. At least five persons were reported killed and 40 more injured in two days of fighting. It was unanimously agreed that all mining within Koidu, especially along the roads, should cease, and that the chairman of the Koidu-New Sembehun Town Council should begin revenue collection. The meeting also agreed that all displaced persons should be allowed to reoccupy their homes in the interest of peace and reconciliation. Paramount Chief Abu Mbawa Kongoba II, speaking on behalf of the Kono traditional rulers, stressed that peace was "necessary in Koidu town and Kono District to ensure peace in the entire country."

Several members of Sierra Leone's RUF rebel movement remain on a newly-revised United Nations list of persons banned from international travel under a regime of sanctions imposed earlier this year on the Liberian government for its support of the rebel group. The list includes former RUF field commander Sam "Mosquito" Bockarie (pictured right), whom the Security Council described as a senior member of Liberia's feared Anti-Terrorist Unit, Ibrahim Bah, also known as Ibrahim Balde (left, a Senegalese national and former RUF commander who was alleged in a recent Washington Post report to have arranged illicit diamond sales to representatives of the terrorist al-Qaeda network, and Omrie Golley, the chairman of the RUF's Political and Peace Council. Also named in the list were senior members of the Liberian government, including President Charles Taylor, and persons of various nationalities accused of smuggling weapons to Liberia or to the RUF in Sierra Leone. 

The Belgium-based International Crisis Group (ICG), which last week issued a report questioning whether Sierra Leone was ready for national elections scheduled for next May, "remains cautious" about the country's prospects for peace, the ICG Project Director for Sierra Leone said on Wednesday. "We are concerned about the nature of disarmament," Comfort Ero told the BBC. "We are questioning whether there has been full disarmament, not just physical disarmament of the gun, but mentally. You know, have you actually demobilised the mind of the rebel." Ero pointed to reports suggesting that many Sierra Leonean combatants had crossed into Liberia to take part in fighting in that country. "There are question marks about how true disarmament is, how true demobilisation is," she said. "There hasn’t been a true hearts and mind." Ero also pointed to the ICG report's conclusions questioning whether Sierra Leone should go ahead with elections next year. "We questioned whether Sierra Leone was ripe for elections on the basis of a questionable security environment, on the basis of whether the National Electoral Commission was ready for the elections in terms of capacity and ability, in terms of whether the peace has been fundamentally won, in terms of a number of structures that had to be put in place, and in terms of the question of justice before peace — the issue of the Truth and Reconciliation or Special Court," she said. "So a number of reasons, and ultimately the people themselves were dissatisfied with the (proposed District Block) voting system."

Sierra Leone Under-17 football team is scheduled to meet Mauritania next April in the preliminary round of the African Youth Championship. The first leg will be played April 5-7 and the return leg April 19-21. The winner will go on to play Mali in July. Other preliminary round pairings: Togo vs. Chad, Guinea Bissau vs. Liberia, Burundi vs. Tanzania, Cameroon vs. Sao Tome e Principe, Kenya vs. Somalia, Sudan vs. Uganda, Zimbabwe vs. Swaziland, Namibia vs. Botswana and Mauritius vs. Madagascar. 

26 December: Intensified fighting between government and rebel forces in northwestern Liberia and rumours that the fighting might spread southward, has resulted in a sharp increase in the number of Sierra Leonean refugees returning home in recent weeks, the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Wednesday. The improved security situation in Sierra Leone and reports of harassment of Sierra Leonean refugees by Liberian soldiers have also likely played a role in the increased number of returns. Since December 17, some 1,300 Sierra Leoneans have left the Sinje II camp and crossed into their home country at the Jendema border crossing. Meanwhile, the two refugee camps at Sinje, home to about 15,000 Sierra Leoneans, have recorded 1,500 new arrivals in during the past few days, most of them from Liberia's strife-torn Lofa County. The UNHCR has set up a holding centre at Karnga, where growing numbers of refugees are being housed in a market hall before being transferred to Sinje. Liberia currently hosts about 30,000 Sierra Leonean refugees, about half of them in Lofa County. The UNHCR warned that any mass return, coupled with the arrival of Liberian refugees, would put pressure on the already limited reception capacities in Sierra Leone. The agency estimates that the reception capacity in eastern Sierra Leone could be increased to 4,600 people if sufficient material and shelters were made available. Additional trucks are being brought in to raise the the relief agency's transport capacity from the border to between 1,500 and 1,800 persons per week.

Veteran APC politician Nancy Steele has died in a London hospital after suffering a heart attack on Christmas day. Steele founded the APC's National Congress of Women in the early 1960s and remained a party activist throughout her life. She served on the Freetown City Council during the APC government, and again under the AFRC military junta. Following the AFRC's fall in 1998 she was put on trial for treason, alleged to have made broadcasts on behalf of the junta. In October 1998, at age 75, she was convicted and sentenced to death. She was released from prison in July 1999, following the signing of the Lomé Peace Accord between the RUF and the Sierra Leone government. Steele immediately left for the U.K., the country where she had studied and practiced nursing in her youth, to live with her daughter in London.

25 December: The newly re-elected leader of the Gambia, President Yayah Jammeh, has conferred upon President Kabbah his country's highest honour, making the Sierra Leonean leader Grand Commander of the Republic of the Gambia. The ceremony took place during a visit to Banjul by Kabbah and senior government officials following last week's ECOWAS  heads of state summit in the Senegalese capital Dakar. In a sign that political tensions in war-torn Sierra Leone may at last be easing, President Kabbah met with exiled former foreign minister and 1996 People's Progressive Party presidential candidate Abass Bundu. Recriminations and counter-recriminations have made for little love lost between the two men in recent years, but according to Sierra Leonean activist Sylvia Blyden, the two made a public show of reconciliation after several days of meetings. "It was very obvious (at their first meeting) that President Kabbah and Dr. Bundu wished to put aside their differences and reconcile, but I did notice that that first meeting was clearly awkward between the two men," Blyden wrote from Banjul. "But after three days of Dr. Bundu holding meetings with President Kabbah, by the time we converged again in the VIP Lounge of the Banjul International Airport, President Kabbah and Dr. Bundu were now very much at ease with each other. In the presence of us all, including (Foreign Minister) Hon. Dr. Ramadan Dumbuya, President Kabbah called out to Dr. Abass Bundu as 'Abass' in a very friendly manner." A source close to Kabbah, however, subsequently played down the significance of the meeting. "(Bundu) made several unsuccessful attempts to see the president, and finally succeeded. He also met the president in the company of others at the airport," the source said, adding: "(Bundu) wanted the meeting. (It was) no big deal."

24 December: The Sierra Leone government intends to launch an "education campaign to sensitise the people" to the District Block voting system approved by parliament last week for next year's parliamentary elections, Deputy Director of Information Dominic Lamin told the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) on Monday. Nearly 82 percent of Freetown residents polled by the civil society group Campaign for Good Governance in November and December said they did not understand the new system. District Block would require political parties to submit slates of candidates in each of the country's electoral districts. Their number of each party's candidates elected to parliament would be based on the percentage of votes the party received in that district.  Lamin told IRIN that the Proportional Representation system, used for the 1996 elections, was not popular with Sierra Leoneans. "The proportional representation scheme does not elect parliamentarians of their choice — it elects parties," he said. 

22 December: Sierra Leone's parliament approved this week, by a vote of 52-8, a proposed "District Block" voting system for use in next year's parliamentary elections. Under District Block, political parties would be required to submit slates of candidates in each of the country's electoral districts, and the number of representatives elected from a party would be based on the percentage of votes that party polled in the district. The District Block system was endorsed last month by a National Consultative Conference, but in a recently-conducted by the civil society group Campaign for Good Governance, the overwhelming majority of respondents — nearly 82 percent — said they did not understand how it worked. The voting system is controversial for another reason as well: Sierra Leone's 1991 constitution (Article 38(1) requires that members of parliament be elected by constituency. But Article 38(4) mandates that the constituency lines be redrawn every five to seven years — something which has not been done since the 1980s due to Sierra Leone's long-running civil war. The last census, which would form the necessary basis for any redistricting, was conducted in 1985. Outside experts estimate that accomplishing these tasks could take some 18 months. But delaying the elections by that length of time would run up against Article 49(2), which allows a delay, with parliamentary approval, of no more than six months at a time, and only in the case where Sierra Leone is at war where its physical territory is involved. Meanwhile, Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa (pictured right) has asked parliament for a four-month extension of the government's term in office. "He said the country must not be without a leader for even one minute," Voice of America correspondent Kelvin Lewis reported. 

The Sierra Leone Army has taken up positions in towns and villages adjacent to the Liberian border in Kenema and Pujehun Districts in an effort to curb cross-border activities, "more so when refugees have started streaming across the border as a result of the fighting in Liberia," Voice of America correspondent Kelvin Lewis reported on Saturday.

21 December: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed concern about fighting between government forces and rebels in northwestern Liberia Friday, and he worried that the conflict could spill over into neighbouring states in the sub-region. "The secretary-general remains concerned about the negative impact the fighting is having on prospects for peace and stability in Liberia and its Mano River Union neighbours, Guinea and Sierra Leone," Annan's spokesman said in New York. "The secretary-general calls on those involved in fighting to eschew violence as a means of achieving their objectives." Meanwhile, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said that heavy shelling from Liberia could be heard in the Kailahun area, near Sierra Leone's eastern border. Kris Janowski said that intensified fighting in Liberia's Lofa County was continuing to push refugees and Sierra Leonean returnees into Sierra Leone.

Hundreds of former RUF fighters are taking part this week in a four-day peace and reconciliation carnival at Bo's Coronation Field, BBC correspondent Richard Margao reported. The carnival, organised by the government-owned Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service, is meant to bring together the local civilian population, including members of the pro-government Kamajor militia and RUF rebels. "Until recently, the RUF considered Bo a no-go area," Margao said. "At the various social centers on the Coronation Field, hundreds of civilians stood aghast and cheered the RUF fighters as they danced alongside Kamajors, the police, and government soldiers." Margao said that many of the RUF ex-combatants came from Tongo Field in Kenema District, where only in recent days has the RUF begun to disarm.

Fighting between former RUF and CDF combatants this week in Sierra Leone's eastern diamond-mining city of Koidu have left at least five persons dead and another 40 wounded, the deputy UNAMSIL force commander told reporters on Friday. Major-General Martin Agwai said the fighting, which erupted on Wednesday and Thursday, was sparked by a difference in interpretation of an agreement which set a date for a new moratorium on diamond mining in Kono District. Under the agreement, which had been reached in a three-day meeting between paramount chiefs, RUF and CDF leaders, the police and UNAMSIL, miners had been given a ten-day grace period, following which all mining in the town was to cease. "(One) group said the mining should stop at midnight on the 19th of December," Agwai said. "Another group said the ten days expired on the 20th of December. Another said 23rd December." On the 19th — prior to the expiration of the grace period — about 500 people gathered at the police station to protest continued mining. "On their way home, one group of about 150 people went through an area where RUF ex-combatants were mining," Agwai said. "There was then a misunderstanding between them, which led to stone throwing." Each side blamed the other for starting the violence. "One thing is clear," said Agwai: "The passing of this group created the friction which quickly led to stone throwing and a physical fight, and finally the whole thing escalated and got out of hand." He added that Pakistani peacekeeping troops deployed in Kono District created a buffer between the two sides and brought the situation under control. Agwai acknowledged he could not rule out the possibility that firearms might have been used in the fighting, but he said the deaths and injuries had been caused by clubs, knives, machetes and axes. "No death was caused by gunshots," he said. He stressed that both sides had accepted the need for a moratorium on mining in the district, and that they were looking to their leaders to meet again and to work out a long-term solution to the problem. "Nobody disputed the fact they have accepted the fact that mining in Koidu Township should cease," he said. "If you go to Koidu, people have mined across the roads and the roads have disappeared. People have mined under houses and the houses have collapsed. The RUF, CDF and civilians have accepted that mining within Koidu should stop. The only problem we have is the deadline —  when should it stop." Other agreements reached between the two sides appear to be holding, Agwai said, including one reached between people occupying other people's houses prior to disarmament, and an agreement on market dues, which provides that one party will collect market revenues for four days a week, and the other for three days. "When the Town Council comes in and takes complete control, they will produce the receipts and the Council will take control of the running of the market, and all parties accepted this agreement," Agwai said.

West African leaders meeting in the Senegalese capital Dakar have chosen former Ghanaian minister Mohamed Ibn Chambas to replace Lansana Kouyate of Guinea as executive secretary of ECOWAS. The summit also settled on the name 'eco' for a proposed new currency which would be used in Sierra Leone, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria. In 2004, the eco would be merged with the CFA franc, which is currently used by eight of ECOWAS' 15 member states. 

Disarmament in Kenema and Kailahun Districts, which stalled last month over political political grievances raised by RUF rebels, is back on track, UNAMSIL deputy force commander Major-General Martin Agwai said on Friday. In Tongo, 92 RUF combatants surrendered their arms on Wednesday, bringing the total there to 209. 295 rebel fighters handed in their weapons in Kailahun on Thursday, where 2,452 RUF and four CDF have now been disarmed. In Daru, 361 RUF and 965 CDF have given up their guns. Since January 1, 40,709 ex-combatants, including 4,193 children, have gone through the disarmament process, Agwai told reporters.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, together with its implementing partners has repatriated over 5,400 former Sierra Leonean refugees to their home Kambia District, a spokesman said in Geneva. The returnees are part of a group of some 16,000 refugees who returned from Guinea over the past year and had been temporarily resettled in Loko Massama Chiefdom on the Lungi Peninsula. Since December 6, convoys carrying the refugees have departed almost daily  — to Kambia town by truck and by sea to coastal villages. Each family receives a package of non-food items from the UNHCR as well as a two-month food ration from the World Food Programme. The UNHCR is currently assisting about 60,000 returnees and refugees in Sierra Leone. 

20 December: The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to extend by eleven months, from January 5, a global embargo on the sale of Sierra Leonean rough diamonds, excepting only those controlled by the government under the Certification of Origin regime. In reaching its decision, the Council cited its continued concern over the role the illicit diamond trade has played in the conflict in Sierra Leone. It also noted that the Sierra Leone government had not yet established effective authority over the country's diamond mining areas. The embargo was originally imposed in July 2000 (Resolution 1306) in an effort to deprive Sierra Leone's RUF rebels of revenues from so-called "conflict diamonds," used to fund their decade-long war against successive Sierra Leonean governments. The Security Council also mandated that the government set up a system to certify that diamonds exported from Sierra Leone came only from legitimate sources. The Council welcomed progress made over the past year by diamond producing and importing states, the diamond industry and non-governmental organisations towards breaking the link between illicit diamonds and armed conflict through what has become known as the Kimberly Process, as well as efforts by ECOWAS and West African countries to develop a region-wide certification regime. In a statement issued in New York, the Sierra Leone government welcomed Wednesday's resolution as "balanced, encouraging and forward-looking," and noted that the Security Council had taken note of the views of the Sierra Leone government in extending the embargo. "It was very important for us that the Council acknowledge not only the significant progress in the peace process and the diamond certificate of origin scheme, but also the effort of the Government to re-establish its authority in the diamond producing areas, albeit the Council’s concern about the extent of that authority," said Ambassador Sylvester Rowe (pictured left), Sierra Leone's Deputy Permanent Representative for Political Affairs. Rowe pointed out that Wednesday's resolution linked the extension of the embargo to progress in establishing government authority over the mining areas. "We feel that the decision to extend the restriction for only eleven months, and not for a longer period, reflects the view that Government will soon complete the process of re-establishing its authority (fully or effectively) in those areas," he said. "This is why we regard the resolution as forward-looking and encouraging."

West African heads of state meeting in Dakar have picked Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade (pictured right) to succeed Mali's President Alpha Oumar Konare as chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). But efforts by the regional grouping to address the conflict within the Mano River Union states of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea may have received a setback when the leaders of two of those countries — Charles Taylor of Liberia and Lansana Conte of Guinea — failed to show up for this week's summit, despite personal appeals by Konare and by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. Both nations are being represented in Dakar by their foreign ministers. Taylor cited renewed fighting in Liberia's northern Lofa County in his decision to stay away, and in an interview Thursday with BBC Monrovia correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh, he renewed his accusations that Guinea was backing rebel forces in Liberia. "It is evident," he said, "that President Conte is using the war in Liberia to perpetuate himself in power. By continuing this crisis in Liberia, he makes the case in Guinea that only he can keep Guinea free from crisis."

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed optimism Wednesday that the situation in Sierra Leone was beginning to stabilise. "Things are moving in the right direction in Sierra Leone, and we hope to be able to bring the nation back to normalcy," Annan told reporters in New York. "They themselves are eager to have elections sometime next year, which also shows a level of stability that the population is beginning to sense in their country."

19 December: "Skirmishes" between diamond miners and protesters in Koidu have left several persons injured, UNAMSIL said on Wednesday. The clashes reportedly began when a group gathered to protest diamond mining in the town. The miners responded by throwing stones, resulting in the injuries. Pakistani peacekeepers deployed to create a buffer between the two groups, and brought the situation under control. Those injured were treated by U.N. medical personnel. 

In a report released on Wednesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) warned that the international community would have to play a more direct role in Sierra Leone's upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections if those elections are to play a role in turning the country toward peace and reconstruction. In its report, entitled Sierra Leone: Ripe for Elections?, the ICG noted concerns as to whether the conditions for genuinely free and fair elections could be met within the five-month time frame, and pointed to deficiencies in the National Electoral Commission's technical and logistical capacity to carry out necessary tasks such as as the registration of an estimated 2.7 million voters ahead of the polls. The ICG also pointed to ambivalence over the proposed "District Block" voting system which, it said, would likely favour the ruling SLPP party, and widespread fears about election fraud and corruption. In a subsequent interview with Radio France International the report's author, Dr. Comfort Ero, highlighted the lack of time to prepare for the vote. "The immediate and most obvious point is the short time space in which to prepare for the elections," she said. "(The National Electoral Commission) has basically five to six months in which to prepare for voter registration, voter education, sensitisation throughout the country, and to insure the resettlement of internally displaced people and return of refugees within the region...There’s an obvious capacity problem that’s facing...the National Electoral Commission. One of the issues is implementation, the other issue is about delivery on key areas of the election, and so far the NEC seems to have a serious capacity problem. And there are also issues about its impartiality toward the government, that it needs to almost have an impartial body to assist it in running the election."

18 December: The full deployment of United Nations peacekeepers in Sierra Leone has led to a secure environment, increased freedom of movement, the gradual return of refugees and an economic resurgence in the provinces, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in his latest report to the Security Council on the activities of UNAMSIL. But Annan warned that some important steps towards achieving sustainable peace in Sierra Leone were still lagging behind, including the restoration of government authority throughout the country, the reintegration of former combatants and the return and resettlement of refugees and displaced persons. The secretary-general noted that more than 36,000 combatants had turned in their arms between May 18, when the disarmament process resumed, and December 9, exceeding initial estimates. The final figure is expected to reach about 40,000. Annan pointed to a slowdown in disarmament by RUF combatants in Kenema and Kailahun Districts, raising questions about the rebel group's intentions. He said, however, that disarmament in those two districts — the last two of Sierra Leone's districts to disarm — was expected to be complete by the end of the month. The report also detailed U.N. plans to support Sierra Leone's presidential and parliamentary elections, now scheduled for May 14. UNAMSIL intends to establish one electoral office in each of Sierra Leone's five electoral regions, and U.N. troops will be asked to patrol more widely to promote confidence during the polling period. Annan said that next year's elections provided another chance to consolidate the peace process, but he warned that the months leading up to the vote could create additional tensions if the electoral process were not deemed to be transparent and credible. "The prevailing situation therefore calls for continued vigilance, as well as the concerted efforts of all concerned, to ensure that the elections are a success," he said. The report also highlighted the peace benefit to Sierra Leone's economy, which is growing at nearly six percent this year, up from 3.8 percent in 2000. "The continuing improvement in the security situation, greater freedom of movement of people and goods, and increased resettlement and reconstruction activities have imparted considerable momentum to the recovery of economic activity that began in 2000," Annan said. "There has been growing investor and consumer confidence as a result of the progress made in the peace process."

The ECOWAS Council of Ministers has wrapped up its meeting in the Senegalese capital Dakar with a call for an international inquiry into the conflict along Liberia's border with Sierra Leone, the Pan African News Agency reported on Tuesday. The ministers, who paved the way for this week's summit of West African heads of state, said they had made progress on a draft protocol to the ECOWAS Mechanism for Conflict Prevention and Management which would highlight democracy and good governance in the sub-region. The outgoing chairman, Malian Economy and Finance Minister Bacari Kone, also pointed to progress during the past year in reconciling the feuding Mano River Union states of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. ECOWAS nation leaders will choose a new leader to succeed Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare, who has led the organisation for the past two years. They are also expected to designate host countries for the new ECOWAS Parliament and the ECOWAS Court of Justice. Meanwhile, Liberian President Charles Taylor announced last week that he would miss the summit because of the "prevailing situation" in fighting between rebels and government forces in Liberia's northern Lofa County. On Monday, Taylor said an alleged plot to overthrow his government, together with the "intensification of the situation" in Liberia would prevent him from travelling to Dakar.

Sierra Leone's Deputy Defence Minister, Sam Hinga Norman, has denied Liberian claims that Kamajor militiamen are fighting alongside LURD dissidents in that country's northern Lofa County. On Monday, Liberian President Charles Taylor claimed his forces had killed several Kamajors and surrounded others. Norman told the BBC that Sierra Leone had no knowledge of any Kamajor presence in Liberia and he challenged Taylor to prove it. "We do not have any official or unofficial knowledge of such a situation existing on our border," Norman said. "I wouldn’t want to say I equivocally (sic.) deny it. I am saying that he has to provide the proof...He will have to display the bodies to groups like you for identification and for confirmation." Norman said his government had no interest in retaliating against Liberia for alleged Liberian backing for Sierra Leone's RUF rebels, and he suggested that Taylor's accusations might be aimed at trying to gain "credibility or sympathy" from the international community. "You may judge between the lines what the situation has been all along," Norman said. "He has been saying he has no involvement in Sierra Leone and it has been found to be otherwise. So where do we find the line now?" The deputy defence minister insisted that if there were Sierra Leoneans fighting alongside Liberian dissidents, they were not members of the Kamajor militia. "They might not be Kamajors at all. They may be ordinary people who are acting on their own," he said. "I am saying that Kamajors, the situation or the allegation leading to Kamajor, is not possible at all."

Sierra Leone's permanent representative to the United Nations urged the international community Tuesday to assist West African nations to achieve economic cooperation and integration and to promote conflict prevention and management. In his statement to the Security Council during Tuesday's open debate on this year's inter-agency mission to West Africa, Ambassador Ibrahim Kamara pointed to what he said was the desperate need for an integrated regional approach to crises in the sub-region. Kamara hailed the mission's recommendation that U.N. agencies assist West African governments in focusing on development programmes which cover basic social services such as health, nutrition, water and sanitation. "We cannot speak about peace and security in West Africa unless there is a drastic reduction in the level of poverty in our respective countries," he said. Kamara also pointed to the need to reintegrate ex-combatants, especially youth, into society in those countries emerging from war. He warned that without addressing the problems confronting youth, these countries could revert to cycles of violence. "Serious consideration should be given to the recommendation of the inter-agency mission that socio-economic programmes should be geared towards alleviating youth unemployment," he said. "We would also like to stress the urgent need to address the problem of education and training of this special population group. To a large extent, the future of peace and stability in our sub-region lie in their hands."

A Dutch reporter has been recognized by the European Commission for his coverage of the civil war in Sierra Leone, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday. Teun Voeten, who writes for Vrij Nederland, received a Special Commendations for his article "De bittere vrede van Sierra Leone" (The bitter peace of Sierra Leone). "Jury members were impressed by the courage Teun Voeten demonstrated in returning to Sierra Leone even though he had nearly lost his life there two years ago," the EU said. "The article focuses on the very important subject of how to deal, once peace has been restored, with former military and paramilitary groups or with individuals who killed and maimed in war situations." 

16 December: The commander of UNAMSIL's Pakistani peacekeeping contingent has dismissed claims by Liberia's defence minister that Liberian dissidents might be planning to launch cross-border attacks into Sierra Leone in at attempt to discredit the Liberian government, Voice of America correspondent Kelvin Lewis reported. "I was there very close to border yesterday myself, and there was no sign of any incursions from Liberia," said Brigadier-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, whose troops are deployed in Sierra Leone's eastern Kono and Kailahun Districts. Meanwhile, the Liberian government claimed Saturday that its forces had retaken the town of Kolahun from rebel fighters who, it said, had retreated to the town of Kungbor on the Sierra Leone border. There was no independent confirmation of the claims. Lewis quoted Sierra Leonean Chief of Defence Staff, Brigadier Tom Carew (pictured right), as saying that the Sierra Leone Army was now deployed in 75 percent of the border area. "He warned any would-be dissidents they would be crushed if they are sent to destabilise the state," Lewis said.

15 December: 2,000 Nigerian soldiers have completed ten-week training courses in preparation for peacekeeping duties in Sierra Leone, the Associated Press reported on Saturday. The training programme, code-named Operation Focus Relief, provided the troops with training in combat skills, human rights, and command-and-control functions. U.S. Ambassador Howard Jeter described the training as a "model exercise" which "demonstrated clearly to all that the United States had, and has, no hidden agenda, no nefarious motives, with this, or any other of our security assistance programmes." Two Nigerian battalions currently serving with UNAMSIL, NIBATT-7 and NIBATT-8, also received U.S. training before deploying in Sierra Leone.

14 December: The disarming of Sierra Leone's warring factions is now expected to be complete by December 30, acting UNAMSIL spokesperson Masinba Tafirenyika told reporters in Freetown on Friday. The date was pushed back by a month after the RUF stalled the disarmament process in Kenema and Kailahun Districts, citing a number of political concerns. RUF combatants resumed handing in their weapons earlier this week. Since disarmament resumed on May 18, 37,364 ex-combatants have disarmed throughout the country. The total number since January 1 is 38,681, Tafirenyika said. In response to a reporter's question, he acknowledged that there "may be some individuals who are in the bush and have not come forward" in Sierra Leone's eastern Kono District. "That is the purpose of the Community Arms Collection and Destruction Programme to encourage the ex-combatants to come out of the bush and disarm," he said.

Sierra Leone has become the 133rd United Nations member state to pay its regular budget dues in full this year with a payment of more than $10,000, a U.N. spokesman said in New York.

A poll on the elections and the peace process conducted in Freetown by the civil society group Campaign for Good Governance has indicated that three fourths of respondents do not understand the proposed "District Block" system of voting for upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, the BBC reported on Friday. The poll, Leh di Pipul dem Tok, indicated that even those who did understand the system, in which parties draw up slates of candidates for each district, expressed a preference for the constituency-based system. More than half of those interviewed preferred that elections be postponed until peace had been completely restored in the country. The poll asked 19 questions of 3,039 persons in 600 randomly-chosen streets in the capital. Nearly 60 percent of respondents would support a British trusteeship of Sierra Leone, and credited Britain with restoring peace in the country. 

More than 3,500 returned refugees have who had been temporarily resettled in villages on the Lungi Peninsula have been repatriated to their home Kambia District, the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Thursday. U.S. Ambassador Peter Russell Chaveas accompanied UNHCR Arnauld Akodjenou to Port Loko District's Loko Masama Chiefdom to witness the relocation exercise, the agency said in a statement. A total of 7,500 former refugees are due to be returned to Kambia District in the near future, a UNHCR spokesman said this week. Meanwhile, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday that it, in conjunction with the UNHCR, was relocating 10,000 returnees in Kambia and Port Loko Districts, with the WFP providing a two-month food ration and the refugee agency providing non-food items. The agency said it was also providing food for some 4,000 displaced persons living in Port Loko who come from surrounding villages now declared safe. Because of the International Organisation for Migration's decision to withdraw from the resettlement programme, the WFP said, "the lack of transport hampered the resettlement of the IDPs from Freetown, which has now been postponed to next month."

13 December: The United Nations Security Council met to discuss sanctions on Sierra Leone Thursday as part of a review of the 18-month global ban on the sale of Sierra Leonean diamonds which expires next month. Resolution 1306 called for the Council to undertake a review of the security situation in Sierra Leone, including the extent of the government's authority over the diamond mining areas, to determine whether to extend or modify the embargo. A diplomatic source told the Sierra Leone Web late Wednesday that "serious negotiations" on a British-sponsored draft resolution to renew the restrictions had been underway in the preceding 48 hours. "It is now certain that the 'measures' will be renewed for twelve and not eighteen months," he said. British Permanent Representative Sir Jeremy Greenthorpe was expected to present the draft to a closed meeting of the Security Council on Thursday with a vote coming as early as Friday. However, a statement read out by Council President Moctar Ouane of Mali noted that members had reviewed the ban, but it made no reference to the draft resolution. "Council members noted that the Revolutionary United Front and the Civil Defence Forces continued to mine diamonds illegally, giving them access to funds which might be used to buy weapons," Ouane said, adding: "Members of the Council are ready to extend the ban on Sierra Leone diamonds."

207 RUF ex-combatants disarmed in Kailahun town on Wednesday, bringing to 866 the number of former rebels who have turned in their arms to U.N. peacekeepers in Sierra Leone's eastern Kailahun District. The U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN), quoting acting UNAMSIL spokesperson Masimba Tafirenyika, said four CDF combatants disarmed Wednesday at the town of Daru. In the diamond-mining town of Tongo Field, disarmament has got off to a slow pace, with only 24 combatants disarming on Thursday and 25 on Wednesday. "The pace has been slow because of logistical problems. They have to walk long distances to get to the demobilisation camps, sometimes we try to pick them up in vehicles but the roads are impassable," Tafirenyika said. Another reason for the slow pace, he said, was that "it seemed information had not filtered to all the combatants" since RUF leaders ordered rebel fighters to resume disarming last Monday. A total of 240 combatants reportedly disarmed at Kailahun, Tongo Field, and Daru on Thursday, Tafirenyika was quoted as saying. "We except disarmament to pick up, particularly in Tongo Fields by the weekend and next week. We are optimistic it will go on well given the assurances we have got from RUF commanders," he added.

The RUF's interim leader, Issa Sesay, has denied allegations made this week by Liberia's defence minister that Liberian dissidents backed by RUF and CDF mercenaries were preparing to launch cross-border attacks into Sierra Leone, PANA correspondent Pasco Temple reported. "I don't know anything about any plans relating to an alleged dissidents plan to disturb the peace of Sierra Leone," Sesay said in Kailahun. "I have not received any reports of insecurity or movement of dissidents from Buedu to Liberia, or from Kolahun in Liberia to Sierra Leone." Sesay said the area was "calm and quiet," adding: "If there is any trouble, I want to believe that UNAMSIL Pakistani troops deployed in Kailahun can say it, because they too are monitoring the border with Liberia."

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation has again placed Sierra Leone on its list of African countries facing serious food shortages due to the country's civil strife and population displacement. The neighbouring countries of Liberia and Guinea also made the 15-nation list — Liberia on account of past civil strife and population displacement and Guinea because of internally displaced persons and refugees. Also listed in the FAO's report, "Food Supply Situation and Crop Prospects in Sub-Saharan Africa," were Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

U.N.-brokered Tripartite talks between the Sierra Leone government and the RUF which had been scheduled for Thursday were postponed, sources told the Sierra Leone Web. No reason was stated for the cancellation.

12 December: 481 former RUF combatants, including 110 children, turned over their weapons to U.N. peacekeepers in Kailahun District on Tuesday and Wednesday as the stalled disarmament process resumed this week in the last two of Sierra Leone's last twelve districts. Disarmament was to have been concluded on November 30, but stalled in Kailahun and Kenema Districts over rebel political grievances. In Kenema District, 25 rebels disarmed in the diamond-mining town of Tongo Field, a spokesperson for UNAMSIL said on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Omrie Golley, the chairman of the RUF's Political and Peace Council, told the Sierra Leone Web from the U.K. that some 220 ex-combatants had disarmed on Tuesday. He added that RUF interim leader Issa Sesay had now made a commitment that the process would continue.  

The Sierra Leone government has shortened the curfew by two hours in advance of Muslim and Christian holidays this month, the BBC reported on Wednesday. The curfew, which formerly began at midnight, will now run from 2:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Police Commissioner Francis Munu told BBC Freetown correspondent Lansana Fofana that the change had been made possible by the improvement in the country's security situation, but he also described it as a move designed to discourage armed robbery in the capital. With people out on the streets during the hours the robbers usually struck, he argued, they might find it more difficult to carry out their illegal activities.

11 December: RUF interim leader Issa Sesay travelled with UNAMSIL officials and reporters to Kailahun town and Tongo Field on Monday, where he called on his followers to lay down their arms. Disarmament stalled in Sierra Leone's eastern Kenema and Kailahun Districts last month, the last two regions of the country scheduled to disarm under a U.N.-brokered agreement between the government and the rebels. According to Associated Press correspondent Clarence Roy-Macaulay, Sesay climbed on top of a table at RUF offices in Tongo Field to address rebel combatants over a bullhorn. "My message...is to start disarming tomorrow," he said. "The war is over and peace has returned." The RUF leadership pledged to resume disarming at a meeting in Magburaka on Friday with UNAMSIL officials. UNAMSIL, in a statement, said disarmament in Tongo Field would begin on Tuesday following a request by the local RUF commander, Colonel Sama Banya, for time to prepare his men. In Kailahun, Sesay reminded local residents that the district was one of two in the country yet to disarm. "It doesn't make sense," he said, if the people of Kailahun District did not complete a process that had been completed in nearly every other part of the country. Four combatants disarmed at Kailahun Monday in a symbolic exercise, and disarmament is expected to begin in full force on Tuesday. Despite reluctance on the part of their leaders, some 380 RUF combatants in Kailahun District have handed over their weapons to U.N. peacekeepers in recent days. The rebels stopped participating in the process in mid-November to express their dissatisfaction on a number of issues, including the continued detention of RUF officials, the outcome of last month's National Consultative Conference, and over what they said was a lack of cooperation in transforming their movement into a political party. 

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, will double the number of refugees being assisted to return to Sierra Leone from Guinea, from 250 to 500 a week, a UNHCR spokesman said in Geneva. The decision resulted from pressure by the refugees themselves, who cited improved security conditions in many parts of Sierra Leone and their desire to participate in next year's elections. Beginning this week, the agency will organise two voyages of 250 people each aboard the ship M.V. Overbeck, including refugees picked up by truck from refugee camps in central Guinea as well as those who show up on their own at the Mambya transit centre, some 50 miles north of Conakry. Since May, the UNHCR and its implementing partner, the International Organistion for Migration, have transported 30,363 Sierra Leonean refugees back to Freetown by boat. Meanwhile, the UNHCR last week relocated 1,816 returned refugees from temporary resettlement sites on the Lungi Peninsula to their home towns in Kambia District. A total of 7,500 returnees are to be moved to Kambia District in coming days. 

Amnesty International said Tuesday that RUF rebels, fighting alongside Liberian security forces, has been responsible for human rights abuses against Liberian civilians. The human rights group said it had documented continuing abuses, including torture while in incommunicado detention, killings, the rape of women and girls, and the forced military recruitment of men and boys, dating back to mid-2000. "In recent weeks, the targeting of civilians has become increasingly arbitrary, with all ethnic groups at risk," Amnesty said, adding that previously it was chiefly members of the Mandingo ethnic group who were the primary targets and victims of human rights abuses. During a recent visit to Liberia, human rights researchers found that civilians had become the main target in fighting in Lofa County, and Amnesty warned that displaced Liberians and Sierra Leonean refugees were now at risk in Cape Mount County as well. The poor security situation has forced humanitarian agencies to withdraw from the displaced camps, and without an international presence, Amnesty said, there is now no group with a mandate to provide protection for camp residents. The human rights group also accused the Liberian authorities of turning a deaf ear to the plight of civilians in the conflict areas. "The government has been hostile to any public criticism of its conduct, especially with regard to the behaviour and impunity of the security forces," it said. "It has failed to take the necessary steps to bring those suspected of being responsible for human rights abuses to justice."

10 December: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke of the indivisibility of humanity and of the importance of individual human rights Monday as he accepted the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize for himself and on behalf of the United Nations. In October, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced the United Nations and its secretary-general would share this year's peace prize for what it called "their work for a better organised and more peaceful world." Sierra Leone currently hosts the world's largest United Nations peacekeeping force, working to bring to an end more than a decade of civil conflict in the country. In his Nobel Lecture, Annan pointed to the challenges faced by children born in countries such as Afghanistan and Sierra Leone to illustrate the divide which exists between the world's rich and its poor. "No one today can claim ignorance of the cost that this divide imposes on the poor and dispossessed who are no less deserving of human dignity, fundamental freedoms, security, food and education than any of us," he said, adding: "Today's real borders are not between nations, but between powerful and powerless, free and fettered, privileged and humiliated. Today, no walls can separate humanitarian or human rights crises in one part of the world from national security crises in another."  The secretary-general lamented that fundamental human rights had often been sacrificed to the supposed interests of the nation. "In this new century, we must start from the understanding that peace belongs not only to states or peoples, but to each and every member of those communities," he said. "The sovereignty of states must no longer be used as a shield for gross violations of human rights. Peace must be made real and tangible in the daily existence of every individual in need. Peace must be sought, above all, because it is the condition for every member of the human family to live a life of dignity and security."

Liberia's defence minister has alleged that Sierra Leoneans from both of Sierra Leone's main warring factions are fighting alongside dissidents of the rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), and he speculated that that they might be planning to launch an attack into Sierra Leone. "Our intelligence sources have indicated to us that the group which attacked Kolahun and subsequently ambushed the pickup in which the Deputy Minister of National Security was riding in were a heavily-accented Krio-speaking group," Defence Minister Daniel Chea told BBC correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh. "And in the direction and manner in which they were maneuvering and moving would suggest that their target is the Sierra Leonean border." There has been no independent confirmation of the minister's claim. Chea said the Liberian government was concerned that any rebel incursion into Sierra Leone would "make it appear as if someone out of Liberia is carrying out such an attack," and could endanger recently improved relations between the two countries. He insisted that "a breakaway group of the RUF, and also CDF" had joined LURD in Guinea as mercenaries. "What we do not want, we do not want these very groups to come and get Liberia at loggerheads with Sierra Leone," he said. Chea speculated that the rebels might be planning an attack on Sierra Leone to put Liberia in a bad light. "Rebels are being supported by different interests," he said. "What if someone with an interest decides to put them up to this? ‘Look, we have to prove Liberia wrong. We have to prove that (former RUF field commander) Sam Bockarie’s still in Liberia. We have to prove that Sam Bockarie does not only still live in Liberia, but he has men under his control to attack Sierra Leone. So go in and attack the border with your men and make it appear that it’s Sam Bockarie’s group, to just tarnish the image of Liberia'."

9 December: Liberian President Charles Taylor called in Sierra Leone's ambassador in Monrovia for consultations late Friday over fighting along the Liberia-Sierra Leone border between Liberian rebels and government forces, BBC Monrovia correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh reported. Liberia has reportedly sent additional troops to reinforce border towns, where LURD rebels have made gains in recent days. "The president has also urged his Sierra Leonean counterpart, Tejan Kabbah, to put his armed forces on full alert on the border in order to prevent any rebel crossover," Paye-Layleh said. LURD, for its part, has accused the Liberian government of using members of Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front and have threatened to strike back. 

Sierra Leone's human rights record has "improved drastically" as compared to a year ago despite isolated incidents in both government and rebel-held areas, Paul James Allen of the National Forum for Human Rights told Radio France International. In a report reflecting the human rights situation for the year 2000, the National Forum for Human Rights accused both the pro-government Kamajors and the RUF for maltreating prisoners of war. The Forum described a Kamajor base at Koribundu as an example of an illegal detention centre where RUF prisoners of war had been grossly mistreated. These detention centers have since been abolished and the rebel prisoners either turned over to the government or released, Allen said. In the Northern Province, Alean said the Forum had investigated similar detention centers manned by the RUF. "Conditions within the detention centers were appalling, and people were held without any due regard for their fundamental human rights and also their constitutional rights," he said. Allen noted the Forum had also expressed concern over shortcomings in Sierra Leone's judiciary. "We fear the judicial system, including logistics available to the judicial staff — the manpower — is not commensurate with the amount of crime or the amount of detainees they are facing," he said.

8 December: Sierra Leone's finance minister has welcomed a decision by the 19-member Paris Club of creditor nations to restructure and reduce Sierra Leone's external public debt, the Associated Press reported. "The debt relief led to the immediate cancellation by the Paris Club creditors of about $72 million of our external debt and a reduction of debt service," Finance Minister Peter Kuyembeh (pictured left) said late on Friday. He added that the cancellation followed an October meeting between the Sierra Leone government and Paris Club officials. The restructuring should reduce Sierra Leone's debt service payment to Paris Club members between October 2001 and September 2004 from $180 million to about $45 million.

7 December: The United States has placed Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front on a new "Terrorism Exclusion List" which which would allow the authorities to deport members or to deny them visas to enter the U.S. The list includes 39 groups, organisations and companies from 19 countries. "By designating these groups, the Secretary (of State) has strengthened the United States' ability to exclude supporters of terrorism from the country or to deport them if they are found within our borders," State Department spokesman Phil Reeker said in a statement. In its April 2001 report "Patterns of Global Terrorism," the U.S. included the RUF in the category "other terrorist organisations," which under American law does not require legal sanctions such as a ban on visas. In making that finding, the State Department pointed to the RUF's abduction in May 2000 of more than 500 U.N. peacekeepers, and alleged that the rebel group used "guerrilla, criminal, and terror tactics, such as murder, torture, and mutilation, to fight the government, intimidate civilians, and keep U.N. peacekeeping units in check." More recently, the RUF has been linked in a Washington Post report to illicit diamond deals with representatives of the al-Qaeda Network, the group believed responsible for September's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

RUF leaders have pledged to begin disarming Monday in Sierra Leone's eastern Kailahun District, UNAMSIL said in a statement. The undertaking was made on Friday at a meeting in Magburaka between the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, and a large RUF delegation headed by interim leader Issa Sesay which included a number of women from various parts of the country. The RUF raised several issues, including the release of their leader, Foday Sankoh, the lack of assistance for the transformation of the rebel movement into a political party, and security for the RUF leadership after disarmament. Following a long discussion, Adeniji said that dealing with the RUF's political concerns would be easier following the completion of the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration process. He promised that after the resumption of disarmament, he would pursue some of the issues of concern to the RUF. Adeniji was accompanied by UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande and other senior U.N. officials.

366 RUF combatants turned in their weapons in Kailahun town on Tuesday and Wednesday, but the disarmament process, which stalled three weeks ago over political demands by the rebel movement, ceased after two days, apparently over confusion as to whether the disarmament exercise had been sanctioned by RUF leaders. "I believe they started without instructions from higher authorities and have now decided to wait," UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki told the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN). In Daru, 795 pro-government CDF combatants had disarmed as of Thursday, while 147 more had disarmed in Kenema town.

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2270 / 2420. [£] 2940 / 3402. Commercial Bank: [$] 2300 / 2450. [£] 3150 / 3400. Bank of Sierra Leone: [$] 2217 / 2261. [£] 3150 / 3215. Frandia: [$] 2350 / 2450 [£] 2940 / 3150. Continental: [$] 2400 / 2450 [£] 3200 / 3550. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2430 / 2550 [£] 3250 / 3550.

6 December: RUF combatants have resumed disarming in Kailahun District, three weeks after the disarmament process stalled in the east of the country over rebel political concerns which included dissatisfaction over the outcome of last month's National Consultative Conference, a lack of progress in transforming the RUF into a political party, and demands for the release of detained rebel leaders. The Associated Press, quoting UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki, said 195 RUF combatants, including 74 women and 20 children, disarmed on Wednesday. By noon on Thursday, 120 more were waiting to hand in their arms to U.N. peacekeepers in Kailahun town. But in Kenema District, in the diamond-mining town of Tongo Field, disarmament remains on hold, Novicki was quoted as saying. According to Associated Press correspondent Clarence Roy-Macaulay, RUF spokesman Eldred Collins declined to say what had led to the resumption of disarmament in Kailahun District, saying only: "Disarmament is irreversible...As far as the RUFP (RUF Party) is concerned, the war is over." Meanwhile, another snag in the disarmament process has cropped up in Kenema District, with pro-government Kamajor militiamen refusing to hand in their arms until eight of their colleagues on trial for a 1997 murder are released unconditionally, BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported. The Kamajors have written to the magistrate in charge of the case, arguing that the 1999 Lomé Peace Accord granted a blanket amnesty for crimes committed by combatants in the course of Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war. Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman, who is also National Coordinator of the Civil Defence Forces, was in Kenema this week trying to persuade the militiamen to give up their guns. "But the Kamajors insist they will only do so upon the release of their detained militia colleagues," Fofana said.

The 19-member Paris Club of creditor nations has decided to restructure Sierra Leone's foreign debt and to cancel about $72 million of it, the U.N. Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported on Thursday. The restructuring is expected to reduce debt service payments due Sierra Leone's Paris Club creditors between October 2001 and September 2004 from about $180 million to around $45 million. IRIN quoted a finance ministry official as saying the debt relief was aimed at allowing the country to put more money into priority areas such as health, education and agriculture.

Despite recent political issues raised by the RUF which have stalled disarmament in Kailahun and Kenema Districts, the U.N.'s Special Representative of the Secretary-General expressed optimism Wednesday that the process would be completed soon. In a meeting Wednesday with Hans Dahlgren, the European Union's Special Representative to the Mano River Union, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji appealed for assistance with the reintegration of former combatants, which he said was the most crucial task facing the country. Adeniji also stressed that funds were needed for road reconstruction and rehabilitation, which he said would provide employment for the former fighters. He added that donor assistance would also be necessary for the upcoming elections, and to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Special Court for Sierra Leone.

5 December: The disarmament process in Sierra Leone's eastern Kenema and Kailahun Districts remains stalled, UNAMSIL spokesperson Margaret Novicki told journalists on Wednesday. "We in UNAMSIL continue to do all we can to try to get the parties to the conflict to adhere to the agreements that they have signed on disarmament and get the process going in Kailahun and Kenema," she said. RUF combatants have cited a number of political issues, such as the outcome of last month's National Consultative Conference and a lack of progress in transforming the rebel movement into a political party, behind their refusal to turn in their weapons to U.N. peacekeepers. "We believe that these political issues have a place to be addressed —  which is the Tripartite meeting," Novicki said. "Disarmament should be de-linked from any political issue that any party to the conflict wishes to raise." On Monday, the RUF's Eldred Collins told a radio audience in Freetown that RUF interim leader Issa Sesay had gone to Tongo Field and Kailahun in an effort to persuade rebel combatants to disarm. Novicki said, however, that UNAMSIL had "no report that he visited those places." She added that UNAMSIL's Pakistani battalion in Kono hosted a meeting in Koidu Monday between paramount chiefs and an RUF delegation led by Sesay and Mike Lamin.

4 December: More than 37,000 former combatants have handed in their weapons in Sierra Leone since the disarmament process resumed last May, the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General said on Monday. Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji made the statement during a meeting with the visiting Special Advisor on War Affected Children to Canada's Minister of  International Cooperation, Lt.-Gen. (Rtd.) Romeo A. Dallaire. According to a UNAMSIL statement, Adeniji said the quality of weapons turned in by ex-combatants had been good, and included anti-aircraft tanks, general purpose machine guns and heavy mortars. He said UNAMSIL had destroyed most of the weapons, adding that the process was continuing.

Sierra Leone's United Nations Ambassador told the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday that ongoing African wars — often the result of long-festering ethnic, religious, or linguistic differences, socio-economic inequalities, oppression of minorities or the suppression of human rights — have been aggravated by the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, especially in West Africa. Ambassador Ibrahim Kamara lamented that "continuous illicit arms flows, rampant illegal exploitation of strategic natural resources and nefarious terrorist activities" had hampered conflict prevention efforts and attempts to bring a durable peace to the continent. In his address to the General Assembly, Kamara said it was imperative that Africans focus on conflict prevention and post-conflict peace-building and education. "The promotion of a culture of peace within our respective regions remains the best option for social cohesion and national reconciliation," he said. The ambassador appealed to the international community to attach greater importance to measures such as peacekeeping and capacity building designed to free African nations from the scourge of war. "The ever-pervasive issue of poverty and the debt burden with their corresponding attributes continue to plague Africa’s economic development," he said. "Post conflict readjustment in African societies remains a nightmare to both the respective governments and to their people...We therefore appeal to the international community to live up to its commitment in assisting the developing world in its strides."

3 December: The RUF's interim leader, General Issa Sesay (pictured left), has gone to the eastern towns of Kailahun and Tongo Field, where disarmament stalled last month, to "sensitise" rebel fighters to the need to disarm, an RUF official said on Monday. According to the Agence France-Presse, Eldred Collins made the statement during a phone-in programme on Radio FM 98.1. "We have no precondition for disarmament, and we know that the RUF has to disarm so that we will have our final document" (of registration as a political party), Collins was quoted as saying. "We cannot turn ourselves into a political party when we still have arms in our possession. Most of the problems and the hiccups are being solved and disarmament will continue very, very soon," he added. Combatants in the last two of Sierra Leone's twelve districts, Kailahun and Kenema, were to have turned in their weapons between November 15 and 30, and disarmament was to have been completed at the end of last month. RUF members failed to show up for the disarmament exercise, however, citing their unhappiness over the outcome of last month's National Consultative Conference and their demands that the government free the remaining rebel detainees, including imprisoned RUF leader Foday Sankoh.

Five paramount chiefs and regent chiefs from Sierra Leone's northern Koinadugu District returned home Sunday for the first time since war broke out in the area three years ago, UNAMSIL said on Monday. The chiefs' return was facilitated by UNAMSIL and the United Nations Development Programme. Last week 14 paramount chiefs and regent chiefs returned to Kono District, with security provided by the Sierra Leone Police and U.N. military observers.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has followed up on his proposal last June that the U.N. establish an Office for West Africa with a proposition that it be run by a Special Representative for West Africa. The office, Annan wrote in a letter to the president of the Security Council, would enhance the coordination of work by the U.N. and its partners in the sub-region. It would also assist ECOWAS and the Mano River Union — a sub-regional body consisting of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Annan said the office would be based in Dakar, Senegal, and would operate for three years beginning in January 2002. 

2 December: A new organisation, calling itself the 50/50 Group, was launched at a mock session of parliament in Freetown on Friday to push for equal representation in parliament for Sierra Leone's women. Among those to address the session was President Kabbah, who called for the development of a sense of collective responsibility to give "a fair chance" to the nation's women. "With twenty-two political parties so far, and elections just around the corner, it is not too early for me to make a solemn plea to all of us, to ensure that we have an open-door policy for women who wish to participate in the electoral process," he said. "One of the best ways to achieve a vibrant and enlightened electorate is to develop a culture of inclusion." In an interview broadcast on Sunday, 50/50 Group vice president Abator Thomas told BBC Freetown correspondent Lansana Fofana that the organisation's initial goal was to work for half of all parliamentary seats to be held by women. "Our aim is 50 percent, but whether we’ll have that is another matter," she said. "But we will not settle for anything less than 30 percent. We are advising all our women to join various political parties." Thomas stressed that the group was non-partisan and was working with all of the country's political parties. "We are advising our members to join political parties, to get in them and try to influence, to get into their executives, to get into their parliamentary leadership positions, so that they’ll be able to influence from inside rather than staying out and complaining," she said. Thomas added that the group was also looking at the broader Sierra Leonean society outside of government. "Apart from politics, we also want to have competent women in a lot of decision-making positions, because we find that women are sidelined, and we don’t get them into decision-making positions," she said. "So we are doing a lot of training, both in the area of politics and in preparing them to take up responsible positions in all spheres of society." Sierra Leone's government has been traditionally dominated by men, but Thomas said that since announcing formation of the organisation, many men had been registering, attending the meetings, or calling to express support. "Since our initial (radio) programme when we talked about our aims and objectives, what we stand for, a lot of men have been coming to us, have been phoning us, saying that they need a change," she said. "They know that maybe if women come into politics and decision-making positions, that would turn Sierra Leone around. So I don’t think we are going to get too much of a problem. We are going to have to work very hard, I admit, but I think men, too, are beginning to think that maybe they should support us and see if that could change Sierra Leone. People are really fed up with the situation as it is."

1 December: "Every day more than 8,000 people die of AIDS. Every hour almost 600 people become infected. Every minute a child dies of the virus," United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote in describing the global HIV/AIDS epidemic on Saturday, World AIDS Day. New figures contained in a report released by U.N. agencies this week show that more than 40 million people worldwide are now living with the virus. The overwhelming majority of them are in sub-Saharan Africa where, Annan noted, the devastation is so acute that the disease is now considered to be one of the main obstacles to the continent's development. At least five countries in West Africa, including Nigeria, are now suffering severe epidemics, with adult HIV infections exceeding the five percent mark. While the report noted that countries across the region were upgrading and expanding their responses to the crisis, it warned that the high prevalence of the disease means "that even exceptional success on the prevention front will now only gradually reduce the human toll." The HIV virus is primarily transmitted from person to person through sexual contact. This means that, unlike with previous epidemics, AIDS impacts disproportionately upon those in the prime of their lives — men and women between the ages of 15 and 49. In Sierra Leone, according to figures now nearly two years old, an estimated 68,000 persons were living with the disease in 1999, including 3,300 children. 8,200 Sierra Leoneans are estimated to have died from AIDS in that year and over 36,000 Sierra Leonean children under age 15 had lost at least one parent from the disease. And while the report contained no updated figures, there is at least anecdotal evidence that the situation in Sierra Leone has continued to worsen. Nigeria's P.M. News reported last week that 18 Nigerian soldiers who returned from peacekeeping duties with UNAMSIL had contracted the HIV virus while in the country. Drugs now exist which can slow the disease's progress and decrease the likelihood that a victim will transmit it to others. But such drugs are often expensive and difficult to obtain in many parts of Africa, and so far there is no cure. Annan stressed that the international community now had the "roadmap, tools and knowledge" to fight AIDS, but said it must now sustain the political will to bring about "a world in which a child does not die of AIDS every minute." As part of Saturday's World AIDS Day commemoration, UNAMSIL, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, and the National AIDS Control Programme are sponsoring a variety of events organised around the theme "I Care...Do You?" One of the day's main events will be a march past by representatives of the government, the U.N., non-governmental organisations and civil society groups, beginning at Victoria Park in central Freetown and ending at Brima Atouga Stadium.

West African leaders will evaluate progress toward integrating programmes at the 25th ECOWAS Summit, scheduled for December 20-21 in the Senegalese capital Dakar. Heads of State and Government will choose a new leader to succeed Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare, who has led the sub-regional organisation for the past two years. They will also designate host countries for the ECOWAS Parliament and the ECOWAS Court of Justice, set up in November 2000 and January 2001 respectively. The two institutions currently operate from the ECOWAS Secretariat in Abuja, Nigeria. The regional leaders will also appoint an executive secretary — the post currently held by Lansana Kouyate of Guinea — and a chief executive officer, and will consider a memorandum on choosing lyrics for an ECOWAS anthem and the selection of an ECOWAS flag. The summit will be preceded by the 48th session of the Council of Ministers.