The Sierra Leone Web


December 2002

31 December: Joe Kangbai Macavoray polled 387 votes to win the chieftaincy election in Bo District's Tikonko Chiefdom – one of three elections which were held on Monday. Macavoray was the only remaining candidate after his main rival pulled out following the first round. In the diamond-rich Kamara Chiefdom of Kono District, Aiah Melvin Ngekia (pictured left) defeated Tamba Fania in second-round balloting by 621 votes to 442. Ngekia finished second among four candidates in the first round, but picked up more than 80 percent of the votes from the supporters of three unsuccessful first-round candidates: Aiah Petiquoi, Tamba Ngekia and Alfred Teh. Amadu Sesay won a seven-way contest in Bombali District's Sanda Tenraren Chiefdom, garnering 100 votes to defeat Amadu T. Sanu with 21, Bakarr Soriba Bangura and Hassan Munu with seven each, and three other candidates – Amadu Munu, Alimamy A. Sesay and Abdul K. Munu – who received just one vote apiece. Monday's three elections mark the midway point in filling vacancies in nearly half of Sierra Leone's 149 chiefdoms. Since the country's last chieftaincy elections were held in 1992, 73 traditional rulers had died or, in some cases, were killed in rebel attacks. National Electoral Commission Executive-Secretary David Kai-Rogers told the Sierra Leone Web that, so far, the elections had gone relative smoothly. "There have been some isolated cases of protest like the one in the Jong Chiefdom in which there was a roadblock (by supporters of a disqualified house) and finally government had to intervene, getting some reinforcements of the SSD – the Special Security unit of the police – to intervene," he said. "At least the roadblock was cleared and finally we had the elections. But in all of the other cases, there have been heated arguments among candidates on certain issues, but finally the elections have been held. (They've been) very peaceful so far." Paramount chiefs are not elected by popular vote, but instead are selected by chiefdom councillors, comprised of town chiefs, section chiefs, and one person in twenty chosen from local tax payers. Since only men are obliged to pay the local tax, most councillors are men – but not all. Kai-Rogers noted that in some chiefdoms, women had paid the tax to make themselves eligible to take part in the election. "Some females who wants to be councillors are now paying tax, because to be eligible to be a councillor you have to show receipt of your local tax being paid," he said. In one northern chiefdom, which did not have a chieftaincy election this year and where women are in any case not eligible to be elected as paramount chiefs, Kai-Rogers said the authorities were surprised to find an unusually high percentage of women taxpayers. "It was surprising when we looked at the list for areas like the north, like Tonkolili, where we thought women don’t participate," he said. "It was a surprise that the people in the Gbonkolenken Chiefdom, you had the majority of the contributors as women."

30 December: Some 300 expatriate Sierra Leoneans came together in Freetown this week for a five-day Homecoming Summit aimed at finding ways for Sierra Leone's citizens living abroad to participate in their country's development. The summit, which was organized jointly by the U.S.-based Sunrise Group of Companies and the Sierra Leone government, is seeking to begin a dialogue between expatriate Sierra Leoneans and their government, and to explore ways that Sierra Leoneans living abroad can use the skills they have acquired to help in the creation of national wealth. One of the summit's organizers was Trade and Industry Minister Dr. Kadi Sesay (pictured right), who told the Sierra Leone Web on Monday that the government was eager to reverse the "brain drain" and to attract Sierra Leonean professionals back to their country. "Now that the war has ended, we believe that the government should start attracting those Sierra Leoneans who are now working abroad, many of whom are now living very successful lives and are making huge contributions in different parts of the world, to consider coming home to give their own contribution to the development efforts in this country," she said. Sesay acknowledged that Sierra Leone's infrastructure might not be able to support the work of some professionals, and she added that the country's relatively low pay scale might make it unattractive for some who are used to higher salaries in the West to resettle in their homeland. But she said that international agencies like the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) might help to make up some of the difference. And she added that Sierra Leoneans unable to return home could still invest in their country, particularly through joint ventures with other Sierra Leoneans or with foreign nationals. Sesay said the government was looking at ways to diversify the economy, and wanted to focus on building up the manufacturing sector instead of simply selling the country's natural resources. "Even if you look at our diamonds, we don’t want the expats to just come and start becoming miners themselves," she said. "There are things you can do to add value to a diamond – for example, cutting and polishing our diamonds even before export – and by so doing creating jobs for people on the ground, and also skills." One possibility the government was considering, she said, is the creation of export processing zones to encourage the processing of agricultural and mineral exports within the country. "We’re trying indeed to diversify and find ways of attracting people," she said. "We don’t want all of them to come home. Some of them it will be difficult to get jobs straight away. But there are a lot of ways in which they can make a contribution." Sesay insisted that the Homecoming Summit, which ends on Tuesday, will not be just a "once-and-for-all event," but rather that it is the beginning of a process. A secretariat will be maintained, she said, and the inter-departmental planning committee within her ministry which worked on this week's conference will continue to meet each month to take stock of what is happening. "We hope we’ll be able to establish a special website and a database also of Sierra Leoneans living abroad and their expertise, to know which ones we want to come and give assistance in certain areas," she said. "But this is just a beginning. It’s now that the work is really begun, and we think that this is something that is going to lead to a very fruitful end. And the focus for us is not just for the Sierra Leoneans that are here. The focus is to be able to access Sierra Leoneans that are living in different parts of the world, that have not been able to come this time. And next year we are going to organize an even bigger forum – better organized, more time spent on it – and to bring maybe even more Sierra Leoneans that can participate. So this is the beginning."

One of those who addressed the Homecoming Summit on Monday was U.S. Ambassador Peter Chaveas, who hinted that if Sierra Leoneans were committed to rebuilding their country, the international community was ready to support their efforts. Chaveas noted the irony that the country once known as the "Athens of Africa" now suffered from a severe shortage of trained human capital. And he stressed that the country's problems which had forced many of the summit's participants to seek opportunities abroad were largely brought on by Sierra Leoneans themselves. "Many of Sierra Leone's current leaders are seeking to make the very best of the possibilities offered by recent developments," Chaveas said. "Unfortunately, there are others who give every indication that they have learned nothing from the ugly experiences of past decades and are intent on returning to business as usual, on maintaining the traditions that have served Sierra Leone so badly. The Diaspora can play a critical role in determining who wins this confrontation but only if you are prepared to make the investment required to tip the balance." Sierra Leone's richest resource, the ambassador said, is its people. "If you are seriously committed to using that resource well, there is a great deal that the international community, including the United States, can do to support your efforts," he said. "If you are not committed, then there is nothing we can do to overcome your lack of commitment."

29 December: The governments of Liberia and Burkina Faso harbored senior members of the al-Qaeda network for at least two months after the terrorist group carried out its September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Washington Post said on Sunday. The report, which draws on the findings of European intelligence agencies and sources in the region, provides a new insight into efforts by al-Qaeda to turn its assets into easily concealable diamonds – many of them purchased from Sierra Leone's RUF rebels – just weeks after the group bombed U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In the chronology provided by the Post, a senior al-Qaeda financial officer, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, arrived in Monrovia in September 1998 at the behest of Ibrahim Bah, a Libyan-trained Senegalese mercenary who at the time held the rank of general in the RUF. Bah arranged for Abdullah to meet with senior Liberian officials and their RUF allies. In March 1999 two other al-Qaeda operatives, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, made a follow-up visit to Monrovia and also spent a few days touring Sierra Leone's diamond fields, then under RUF control. Bah subsequently rented a safe-house in Monrovia where RUF leaders could sell their illicit diamonds to dealers who handled the al-Qaeda gems. In return, the rebels received a premium price for their stones and supplies of weapons and medicine. Evidence of an RUF - al-Qaeda link first surfaced a year ago in earlier Washington Post report. That report suggested that al-Qaeda had at first profited by the diamond trade, and later had effectively cornered the market on Sierra Leonean diamonds as it sought to turn its cash into gemstones. The rebel group responded by telling the Sierra Leone Web it would launch an internal inquiry into the Post allegations. Three months later the RUF claimed, not surprisingly, that its inquiry had cleared it of any wrongdoing. RUF leaders, however, provided no details on the investigation, or proof that it even took place. The new Post report goes further, and alleges direct involvement by Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore, who allegedly housed Ghailani and Mohammed in his presidential complex, and by Liberian President Charles Taylor, who it says was paid $1 million to hide the two al-Qaeda operatives at Camp Gbatala, a military camp near Taylor's private farm which serves as a base for his feared Anti-Terrorist Unit.

Sierra Leonean football international Paul Kpaka is one of 20 nominees for the Confederation of African Football (CAF) African Player of the Year for 2002. Kpaka, nicknamed "Senegal," currently plays for the Belgian club Germinal. He made his debut on the field for Sierra Leone last October, scoring one of two goals in the Leone Stars' 2-0 Nations Cup qualifier win over Azingo Nationale of Gabon. Kpaka will miss Sierra Leone's next Nations Cup outing, against the Atlas Lions of Morocco, after he was shown a red card in the final minutes of the match for elbowing a Gabonese defender. The nominees include last year's winner, El Hadji Diouf of Senegal, and players from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, South Africa, Tunisia and Zimbabwe – all of them playing for teams outside of Africa. The 20-man field will be reduced to three finalists on Monday. 

The Independent Observer was named best newspaper for 2002 and Standard Times reporter Karim Sei best journalist in an awards ceremony Saturday at Family Kingdom in Aberdeen. The awards were sponsored by musician Jimmy B. and the group All Works of Life. Radio UNAMSIL presenter Kumba Brewah, who was called on to host the event with Daniel Moseray of SLBS television, was named best broadcaster. Minister of Trade and Industry Dr. Kadi Sesay received the nod as the year's best minister, and Jenkins Johnson as the best lawyer. President Kabbah received an award for his work for peace, and RUF interim leader Issa Sesay got an award for his commitment to peace.

28 December: Alimamy Manie Bangura is the new paramount chief in B.K. Maconteh (Bureh Kassie Maconteh) Chiefdom, Port Loko District. His 422 votes were enough for a first-round victory over five other candidates, including Alhaji Ibrahim Kamara with 168 votes, Idrissa Bangura with 68, Milton Kamara with 39, Dr. Joseph Tucker with 11, and Mohamed S.K. Bangura with 4. In Mandu Chiefdom, Kailahun District, Bai Samuel Coomber defeated Sallah Bashiru Coomber by 472 votes to 192 in a two-way contest.

27 December: Lahai A.K. Sowa has won the chieftaincy in Pujehun District's Sowa Chiefdom, outpolling Lahai Kemoh Dudu Sowa in Friday's election by 190 votes to 96. Results in two other elections – Mandu Chiefdom in Kailahun District and B.K. Maconteh Chiefdom in Port Loko District – were not available as of late Friday.

24 December: Edgar S. Margai was the winner in Friday's chieftaincy election for Lower Banta Chiefdom in Moyamba District. He polled 197 votes to defeat Francis Bismarck Margai and Madam Mamie Sia Margai, both of whom received 46. In Jawei Chiefdom, Kailahun District, Musa Ngoumbu-Kal Kallon defeated Moinina Conteh in a second round runoff by 810 votes to 506. In the north, Bomba Sana Samura garnered 241 votes to win the chieftaincy in Koinadugu District's Sulima Chiefdom. He defeated Fasineh B. Samura, who received 60 votes.

23 December: Four Nigerians and a Ghanaian national are in Sierra Leone Police custody, and officials were searching Monday for at least three other members of an alleged ‘419' scam ring thought to be operating in Sierra Leone and a half-dozen other West African countries. A Sierra Leonean schoolgirl was also arrested, but later was released on bail. Raphael Ajukwara, Richard Ekechukwu, Frank Uche and Uche Okafor, all Nigerians, and Ghanaian Charles Doe were arrested in a series of police stings which began in Freetown last Wednesday. Police are still searching for John Edeh and two other men: one identified only as "Francis," and the other known as "Alex" or "James" – a Nigerian who reportedly lives at the UNAMSIL barracks in Freetown.

Dauda A.K. Jah has won the chieftaincy in Bo District's Bagbo Chiefdom, defeating K.M.K.S. Coker 155 votes to 96. The election was held on Friday. In Tonko Limba Chiefdom, Kambia District, Alfred Momoh Bangura received 141 votes to defeat Foday Alfred Bangura, with 44. Poll results in Kailahun District's Yawei Chiefdom are being withheld because of a High Court injunction which barred the conducting of an election there without a revision of the Councillors List and a New Declaration of Rights. The injunction was dated December 18, but had not been received by local polling officials prior to Friday's election. This brings to four the number of chieftaincy elections which had been postponed over disputed petitions. National Electoral Commission Executive-Secretary David Kai-Rogers said Monday that attempts would be made to reschedule those polls for off-days in the election calendar, especially on Saturdays when no elections have been planned. Otherwise, he said, the election period might have to be pushed beyond its scheduled January 20 end date.

22 December:  Sierra Leone's Under-17 football team, the Junior Leone Stars, drew 0-0 with Burkina Faso Sunday in a game played at the National Stadium in Freetown.

20 December: The United Nations peacekeeping force has completed the first phase of its withdrawal from Sierra Leone, a UNAMSIL spokesman said on Friday. The withdrawal began in October. In September, the United Nations Security Council mandated the 17,000 member force to downsize by 600 soldiers by the end of December, and by 4,500 by May 31. By December 2004, only 2,000 peacekeepers are expected to remain in the country. The Associated Press quoted UNAMSIL spokesman Yousef Hamdan as saying Friday that a second contingent of 3,900 troops would begin to leave starting January 1. "The security situation in the country remains stable," he said. "There's no military action."

Two months into its operational phase, Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is still plagued by management problems, funding shortfalls, conflicts with the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and a lack of leadership from commissioners, the International Crisis Group (ICG) says in a new report issued on Friday. The TRC, one of two transitional justice mechanisms set up at the end of Sierra Leone's ten-year civil war (the other being the Special Court), is mandated to record testimonies from perpetrators of atrocities and their victims, resulting in the creation of "an impartial, historical record of the conflict," and to "address impunity; respond to the needs of victims; promote healing and reconciliation; and prevent a repetition of the violations and abuses suffered." If the TRC does not act quickly to solve its problems, the report warns, it risks losing the confidence of civil society and international donors. Many of the TRC's problems, the ICG says, can be traced to the initial process by which the Interim Secretariat was staffed – a process seen by some as marked by political favouritism and a lack of transparency. The Interim Secretariat failed to carry out many of the tasks charged to it during the TRC's three-month preparatory phase, including the hiring of permanent staff and procuring offices in Freetown and key provincial cities. The recruitment of permanent staff was, in fact, halted in mid-October after flaws were found in the hiring process. The positions were re-advertised in mid-November and permanent staff is expected to be on the ground by January 6. With the deployment of statement takers on December 4, the ICG notes that the process finally appears to be picking up speed. But with only one year to complete its work, the group says the TRC must take swift and concrete steps to fulfill its mandate. The ICG urged commissioners to come up with a strategic plan for conducting the operational phrase, and then follow through. The TRC itself should establish a research branch and also reach out to disaffected civil society groups and organisations which have specialised knowledge in such areas as gender violence and children's issues. And commissioners themselves should become more engaged in the process, particularly in fundraising, and they should develop a stronger and more independent voice. Said the ICG: "If the commissioners can demonstrate a capacity to revitalise the institution, donors will have to stop playing a 'wait-and-see' game and start contributing funds and other support to a process that is critical to sustain Sierra Leone's hard won and still tenuous peace."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) registered hundreds of unaccompanied Liberian refugee children this year in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast in an effort to reunite them with their families, the organisation said on Friday. The children have been given the opportunity to send messages accompanied by a photograph through the Red Cross network to their families in Liberia.

19 December: Joseph Tommy Kposowa won the chieftaincy in Bumpe-Gao Chiefdom, Bo District, on Wednesday. He polled 292 votes to defeat Paul Macavory, who received 167. In Fiama Chiefdom, Kono District, the winner was Sahr Yongai Kontanday M’briwa, who defeated Aiah Kontanday Songo-M’briwa 81 votes to 71 in the second round. In Kasunko Chiefdom, Koinadugu District, Alfred B. S. Kamara emerged the winner, defeating Abu Bakar Yaribo Thoronka 194 votes to 178 in a runoff election.

Sierra Leonean Deputy Defence Minister Joe Blell has been awarded Nigeria's highest honour for his years of work as Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Nigeria to improve the relationship between Freetown and Abuja. Blell received the Order of the Niger from Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo at a ceremony in the Nigerian capital on Friday. Of the 214 persons who received awards, only 13 were non-Nigerians, and only one of those was an African. Blell said the award reflected his work to enhance relations between the two countries during his more than eight years in Nigeria. During part of that time, Blell represented Sierra Leone's then government-in-exile which had been forced from power in a 1997 military coup. "This was also the most difficult time, and (the award was for) the role I played in sustaining fighting for democracy from Nigeria – informing the public and the government in Nigeria so that the support was kept at a very high level, and also my relationship in fostering the relationship," Blell told the Sierra Leone Web. Now back in Freetown, Blell faces the task of downsizing Sierra Leone's postwar army by some 4,000 troops over the next four years. Following the end of years of civil war, the government is proposing to reduce the size of the military from more than 14,000 to a little over 10,000. Several hundred soldiers are expected to reach the mandatory retirement age of 55 in each of those years, but Blell said that the bulk of the others – initially expected to be drawn from the lower ranks – inducements would be offered to encourage soldiers to leave the service voluntarily. "The most interesting part is that they’ve given a very generous package," he said. "Sometimes the problem comes when you retire people and they don’t get their package, so we’ve given them a very generous package and a six month training." Skills training, he said, would be in areas such as carpentry and machinery which the former soldiers could carry back to their communities. "Sometimes they come in (to the army) and don’t realize they can leave," he said. "So they will decide, 'look, once we have the option we can go.' And now we are giving them the option, because of the downsizing." From mid-1997 to early 2000, West African troops were arrayed in Sierra Leone to support the government against rebel forces. Now the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is looking for peacekeepers to deploy in strife-torn Ivory Coast. Blell attended the emergency ECOWAS meeting in Ghana where pledges of troops were made, but he said Sierra Leone was at least a year away from being ready to contribute to a peacekeeping force. "We said we were not going to make pledges because of our present position just coming out of the war, trying to get ourselves together," he said, adding: "Now that we are going through retraining and all that, you don’t just want to send people in the middle of the ball game. Right now we are going through a reorganization. If it was a year down the road, yes, maybe. But right now we cannot." The deputy minister also dismissed local press reports of desertions in the army, especially along the border with Guinea. He acknowledged there had been cases where soldiers had gone AWOL, but he insisted this was not a major problem. "Honestly, it is not," he said. "And this is also the reason why we’re trying to downsize, because once we downsize and we have a robust and virile military, then we can be able to provide better services. Even in terms of other areas, we’ll be able to now having the same amount (of resources) for a smaller army – better equipped."

Sierra Leone's Ambassador to Libya was accredited as the country's non-resident envoy to Malta Thursday, marking the first time that Sierra Leone has had ambassador-level representation in the Mediterranean island nation. Ambassador Mohamed L. Samura presented his credentials to President Guido de Marco at a ceremony in the Maltese capital Valetta. The upgrade in relations between the two countries followed a brief stopover in Malta by Sierra Leone's foreign minister earlier in the month. In recent years, Sierra Leone has been represented in Malta by Honorary Consul Joseph A. Dougall, who described Thursday's proceedings for the Sierra Leone Web. "Dr. Samura was the last to present his credentials after two other Ambassadors (for Holland and Sweden) during a very colourful ceremony held in Valletta," he said. "He was escorted down the pedestrian only Republic Street by five horse mounted policemen, in the president's ceremonial Austin Princess car, accompanied by Madam Nadia Samura, and in another following car by Mr. Unisa Kamara, the Head of Chancery, and me." Samura, who was appointed Ambassador to Libya in January 2001, is also accredited to Tunisia and Algeria. Dougall said he would continue as honorary consul, "but with an accredited diplomat, bilateral relations to include trade, industry, tourism and the like will be seriously addressed from time to time."

Liberia's president has sent a letter to the United Nations asking that a unit of peacekeeping troops stationed in Sierra Leone be sent to his country to oversee next year's elections, he told a meeting of political party leaders on Thursday. According to the Associated Press, Liberian President Charles Taylor said his government would uphold a constitutional provision which bars candidates from standing for president or vice president unless they have resided in the country for the ten years preceding the election. "Anybody who thinks this constitutional provision will be changed must forget it," he said. A number of Liberia's most vocal opposition leaders fled the country after Taylor's 1997 election, and now live in exile. No date has yet been set for the election. 

18 December: Allieu Sheriff emerged the winner in Jong Chiefdom's election Monday, defeating four other aspirants to the chieftaincy. The election was delayed for several hours when supporters of a disqualified ruling house blocked the road to prevent electoral commissioners for reaching the chiefdom headquarters town of Mattru. It finally went ahead at about 3:00 p.m. after reinforcements arrived from Freetown to open the road. Sheriff received 149 votes, defeating Madam Susan Sandy with 91, Joshua Tucker with 14, Alice Bunting Williams with 6, and Joe Tucker with 0 votes. A sixth candidate, Sylvester Basopan Goba, had originally made it through the Declaration of Right ceremony but was later disqualified after the government ruled that Goba House, because it was created after Sierra Leone's independence in 1961, is not a legitimate ruling house. In Port Loko District, Alhaji Musa Conteh defeated Osman Tejan Sesay 305 to 135 in T.M. Safroko Chiefdom. Elections in Kasunko (Koinadugu District), Fiama (Kono District) and Bumpe-Gao (Bo District) chiefdoms were scheduled to take place on Wednesday.

17 December: Offices briefly went dark last week at Parliament, at the government-run Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service and at the Youyi Building, where many government ministries are housed, after Sierra Leone's National Power Authority (NPA) cut off their power for non-payment of their electrical bills. NPA General Manager Foday Mannah told the Sierra Leone Web their electricity was turned off for a short time on December 9, adding: "then they made the necessary arrangements for payment." They are now up to date on their bills, he said. Mannah was unable to say Tuesday how far in arrears the three had fallen, but he said those with bills more than three months past due would be disconnected. "It can go up to 60," he said. "First 30, 60 – after that one it is aged up to 90 days, then definitely they are going to be cut off."

An estimated 40 million people are threatened by food shortages in 25 sub-Saharan African countries, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said on Tuesday. Sierra Leone and neighbouring Guinea continue to be heavily dependent on international food assistance because of the large numbers of internally displaced persons and refugees within their borders. In Liberia, civil strife has disrupted agricultural activities, leading to the prospect of poor harvests. The FAO list includes Angola, Burundi, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritania, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

16 December: There was some confusion Monday as to whether paramount chieftaincy elections in Jong Chiefdom would go ahead as scheduled after supporters of the disqualified Goba House blockaded the road leading to the chiefdom, an official at the National Electoral Commission told the Sierra Leone Web. The Goba House supporters demonstrated in Bo Saturday against a Ministry of Local Government ruling that since Goba House had been created during the Siaka Stevens administration, it was therefore not a legitimate ruling house. The supporters blockaded the Sembehun - Mattru road early Monday, reportedly in an effort to prevent electoral commissioners from reaching the chiefdom. Meanwhile, the election in Kono District's Gbense Chiefdom was postponed after the Ministry ruled that petitions would have to be redone. 

Mohamed Dhassie Benya garnered 203 votes Monday to win the chieftaincy in Kenema District's Small Bo Chiefdom. He defeated Doris Mamie Saffa Nyahayandeh, with 94 votes, and Foday Jombo, who received 38. The election in Libeisaygahun Chiefdom in Bombali District, originally scheduled for December 4, went ahead on Saturday, with Sallu Kargbo defeating James Sesay by 160 votes to 34. Prince Metzger Bondo Konneh emerged victorious in Makpele Chiefdom, Pujehun District, with a win Friday over Mohamed B. S. Lakika, 275 votes to 112. The chieftaincy in Soro Gbema Chiefdom, Pujehun District, went to Alhaji Bockarie Vanjawa Zembo, who defeated Abu Liawo George Joker on Wednesday by 213 votes to 117 in a second-round runoff. 

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has decided to appoint Robin Vincent as Registrar of the Special Court as from 1 January 2003, Annan's spokesman said on Monday. Vincent currently serves as Acting Registrar. The court, which includes five judges appointed by the United Nations and three appointed by the Government of Sierra Leone, is mandated to prosecute the handful of persons deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed during the latter half of Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war.

14 December: Two students are dead, an unknown number injured, and about 50 are in police custody following rioting which broke out in Freetown Friday following a football match, the BBC reported. After St. Edward's Secondary School defeated Ahmadiyya Muslim Secondary School on penalties in the finals of the inter-secondary school competition, fighting broke out between the two schools. "Freetown’s main traffic routes, including the business district downtown, virtually came to a standstill yesterday as hundreds of riotous students, some armed with sticks, knives and stones, went on the rampage," BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported on Saturday. "I saw some vehicles destroyed by the rioters and public buildings attacked and pelted with stones. The riotous students even erected barricades on the eastern highways, searching for their so-called rivals." The identities of the two victims were not known, but they reportedly died from stab wounds. "Statements are already being taken from the 50 or so arrested school pupils at police stations across the city," Fofana said. "Some even made a brief appearance in court today on charges ranging from riotous conduct to malicious damage." 

13 December: Haja Mariam M. Gassama (nee Kanja) is the new paramount chief of Gorama Mende Chiefdom in Kenema District, defeating Thomas Ngeyenge Baio in Wednesday's chieftaincy election 334 votes to 126 in a two-way race. In Kholifa Mabang Chiefdom in Tonkolili District, where five candidates vied for the chieftaincy, no one received the required 50 percent in the first round. Four of the five candidates then withdrew and announced their support for Alfred Bai Carew. Carew received 179 of 180 votes in the second round, with one void ballot.

The United Nations Security Council expressed deep concern over the conflict in Liberia, saying it was creating a humanitarian crisis and threatening stability in the region. "The internal conflict and significant violence in Liberia are producing widespread refugee flows and displacement of people in Liberia, exacerbating the humanitarian situation and fuelling the movement of irregular combatants and the flow of weapons throughout the region," Council President Ambassador Alfonso Valdivieso of Colombia said in a statement. The Council urged the Liberian government and the international community to cooperate in order to reach a ceasefire between government troops and LURD rebels, to establish an inclusive peace process, and to stop the flow of illegal weapons. Council members also called for a comprehensive strategy to address the situation in the region, and said it was would consider sending an assessment team to the area in the first half of 2003. As part of that strategy, the Council expressed support for the Rabat Process – engagement of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea within the framework of the Mano River Union under the sponsorship of King Mohamed VI of Morocco – and it encouraged the three countries to follow up on measures to build confidence and security. "Peace and security in the Mano River Union region requires the president of Liberia to engage constructively with the international achieve national reconciliation and political reform in Liberia," the statement said. "Liberia's cooperation is also essential to restore fully relations with its neighbors and to normalize its relations with the international community."

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2100 / 2300. [£] 3000 / 3250. Commercial Bank: [$] 2150 / 2300. [£] 3100 / 3300. Frandia: [$] 2300 / 2400 [£] 3150 / 3350. Continental: [$] 2320 / 2480 [£] 3200 / 3600. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2350 / 2400 [£] 3400 / 3500.

11 December: Sierra Leone has reasonable water resources, but the country ranks low on the ability of its citizens to access clean water, according to a new study released on Wednesday. Overall, Sierra Leone ranked 133rd on the Water Poverty Index, which graded 147 countries in five categories: resources, access, capacity, use, and environmental impact. On a 20-point scale, Sierra Leone received 13.3 for resources, but only a 4.5 for access – that is, the measure of a country's ability to access water for drinking and sanitation, as well as for agricultural and industrial use. With a 4.3 in capacity, Sierra Leone scored in the bottom five in terms of its ability to purchase, manage and lobby for improved water, education and health. The country was ranked 9.0 in terms of use, which measures how efficiently a country uses its water, and 10.9 in environment, a measure which looks at ecological sustainability, environmental strategy and regulation, and numbers of endangered species. While the rankings tended to reflect a country's overall level of development – Finland, Canada and Iceland led the list while 14 of the bottom 15 were from Sub-Saharan Africa – wealth alone did not guarantee a country a top spot in the ratings. The United States was ranked worst in terms of water usage, while countries like the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands ranked relatively low in terms of water resources.

One year ago the radio soap opera "Atunda Aynda" (Lost and Found) first hit the airwaves in Freetown to promote the idea of disarmament in war-ravaged Sierra Leone. The country's civil war officially ended in January, and through some 260 episodes the show has gone on to talk about the issues of demobilisation and reunification, and now of reintegration, actor Charlie Haffner told the BBC. "Everything we deal with, what we encounter in the story-making – it all boiled down to losing and finding," he said. "The war was about losing property, about losing families, and now that we are back again on our feet we are sort of regaining and finding and discovering what we lost." Haffner, who is in London with his acting troupe "Freetong Players," said the show was now concentrating on the concept of reintegration of ex-combatants with their families and communities. "Reintegration is a big word now in Sierra Leone," he said. "It’s known, although it’s a big English word, but it’s known now, and that is what we are focusing now in Atunda Aynda – how people are trying to mix together again." Haffner insisted that Sierra Leone's peace had not only been successful, he said it was now a case study for other war-torn countries in Africa to pursue. "Let Angola come, let Burundi come," he said. "Let them see how we came about it. Another point is that Sierra Leoneans can sensitise – we are good at that. And Sierra Leoneans again on the receiving end, they love sensitisation. They accept this part of them." Atunda Aynda is produced in Freetown by Talking Drum Studio, and received its initial funding from the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration. It is now funded by the Search for Common Ground.

Sierra Leone's Special Court differs from previous war crimes tribunals in that has a local constituency, and it includes judges from both Sierra Leone and the international community, Court President Geoffrey Robertson told the BBC. Robertson and the seven other judges were in Sierra Leone for a weeklong familiarization visit, which commenced with their swearing-in last Monday. "It’s a new kind of tribunal, which means that we have judges both from Sierra Leone and nominated by the United Nations from international countries," he said. "But importantly, the judges nominated by the United Nations are in the majority, so there can be no suggestion that local affections will prevail." The Special Court also differs from the International Criminal Court and earlier tribunals in the Hague and Arusha, Robertson said, because it's not "a court without a country."  "In other words, it’s not sitting a long way away from the atrocities, from the site of the crime. Indeed, we are in the middle of what was until very recently a war zone." Robertson said he hoped the court would help the people of Sierra Leone to put the war behind them. "So many (Sierra Leoneans) have been mutilated," he said. "So many of them have a close relative – a child, a parent – who was killed by the nihilistic brutality of the rebel forces that they cannot achieve closure. I mean, they have horrors when they go down the street and meet the man who killed their child. It will help, I think, give them closure, to get them through the grieving process, to think that at least the people who were responsible for killing their child – even if they didn’t wield the machete but who encouraged and incited machete wielders – are put away for a very long time."

10 December: Pa Wusu Alie Kabia claimed a first-round victory Monday when he polled more than half the votes against nine other candidates in Marampa Chiefdom's paramount chieftaincy election. Vote totals: Pa Wusu Alie Kabia (227 votes), Alpha Saidu Kabia (11 votes) Alusine Kabia (1 vote), footballer Bai Aruna Kabia (77 votes), David S. Kabia ( 9 votes), Edward B. Kabia (3 votes), Foday Kabia (4 votes), Michael Sorie Kabia (2 votes), Osman Kabia (2 votes), and Sidique Kabia (4 votes). Marampa Chiefdom includes the headquarters town of Lunsar, and is located in Port Loko District. In Kagboro Chiefdom, Moyamba District, Segismond Oldman Caulker defeated former Harford School principal Rev. Doris Boilon Lenga-Koroma 164 votes to 111 in a runoff after no candidate polled the required 50 percent of the vote in the first round. In Masimera Chiefdom, Port Loko District, Alhaji Lamin Bangura, with 232 votes, defeated Sulaiman Bangura (11 votes), A.R. Bangura (20 votes) and Foday Rahman Bangura (43 votes). That election was held on Saturday. Elections in Koya, Dodo and Kalansogoia Chiefdoms have been postponed.

Sierra Leone's Special Court will not make use of testimony taken by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the Court's Chief Prosecutor said on Tuesday. In a speech in Freetown in observance of International Human Rights Day, Chief Prosecutor David Crane said the Court and the TRC would operate separately, but that both institutions would work to address "the entrenched problem of impunity" and to ensure accountability for human rights abuses committed during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war. Some combatants have expressed concern that statements they made before TRC could be used by the Court to indict them, but Crane said this would not be the case. "Victims, perpetrators, and witnesses who testify before the TRC should do so without fear of having their statements subpoenaed by my office," he said. "My team of investigators and prosecutors are hard at work putting together cases against key individuals responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law. We are doing this separately from the work of the TRC." Thousands – perhaps tens of thousands – of victims, witnesses and perpetrators are expected to tell their stories to the TRC. Crane's office, on the other hand, is mandated to try a handful of those persons he described as "the commanders, politicians and financiers" deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for the atrocities. "Together, both institutions – the TRC and the Special Court – will work to eliminate the culture of impunity that undermines all efforts to bring peace and stability to this country," Crane said. "However, these institutions present opportunities rather than conclusions. It is still up to all of us present here to make sure that today represents a turning point from the decade past and the decade ahead."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) proposes spending about $10.7 million less in Sierra Leone next year as the country emerges from a decade of civil war. The decrease for Sierra Leone is more than offset, however, by proposed increases for Liberia and Ivory Coast, where new fighting has caused tens of thousands to flee their homes. Overall, assistance to Africa will account for 39 percent of the ICRC's $634.8 million budget, with aid to African countries going up one percent over 2002. 20.2 percent of the funds will go to Asia and the Pacific, 6.9 percent to Latin America and the Caribbean, 15.2 percent to Europe and North America, 13.9 percent to the Middle East and North Africa, and 4.8 percent will be held in a contingency fund.

9 December: George Gbaniey Njiabo won Saturday's paramount chieftaincy election in Niawa Lenga, Bo District with 72 votes over Emmanuel Kombay-Nallay, who received 64. In Kenema District's Nomo Chiefdom, Bockarie Kaba emerged the winner with 82 votes. He defeated Yata Karmoh, who had 33. 

6 December: Albert Moinina Lebbie, with 127 votes, was declared the winner of Wednesday's paramount chieftaincy election in Komboya Chiefdom, Bo District. He defeated Alfred Ndoka Demby, who had 90 votes. In Langrama Chiefdom, Kenema District, Prince Mambu Pewa received 82 votes, defeating Ibrahim Tarley with 65. Polling in Libeisaygahun Chiefdom, Bombali District, was postponed to December 14 due to pending petitions. 

There have been three cross-border raids from Liberia into Sierra Leone's Kailahun District in the past two weeks by combatants searching for food, but the overall security situation in the country remains stable, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday. In addition to their regular patrols, UNAMSIL and the Sierra Leonean army have temporarily deployed troops in problem areas along the border. The flow of Liberian refugees into Sierra Leone has tapered off, but with all of the refugee camps in Sierra Leone now being full to capacity, any new influx would seriously stretch the resources of some aid agencies, the WFP said. Meanwhile, the repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees from Guinea and Liberia remained on hold over the past two weeks, and no more than three land convoys are expected from Guinea before the end of the year. Nationwide, the WFP provided food assistance in various forms to 136,150 persons between November 18 and December 1, including distributions to refugees at five camps in Jembe, Gerihun, Jimmi Bagbo, Gondama and Bandajuma.

The Truth and Reconciliation Committee's Short-listing Committee met on Thursday to draw up lists of applicants to be interviewed for full time positions on the commission. Interviews will begin next week. The commission's hiring of staff fell behind schedule when flaws in the process were discovered after the initial September 30 application deadline had passed, forcing commissioners to begin over in mid-November. Interim consultants and advisors who were recalled to operate the commission in the interim will depart at the end of December. 

Exchange rates for the leone against the U.S. dollar and pound sterling, posted in Freetown on Friday: [Buying / Selling] Standard Chartered Bank: [$] 2100 / 2300. [£] 3000 / 3350. Commercial Bank: [$] 2150 / 2300. [£] 3100 / 3300. Frandia: [$] 2200 / 2370 [£] 3150 / 3350. Continental: [$] 2250 / 2400 [£] 3200 / 3500. Dollar Boys (Black Market): [$] 2300 / 2350 [£] 3400 / 3500.

5 December: The former secretary-general and presidential candidate of the Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP) expressed reservations Thursday about the Special Court, which is mandated to prosecute those deemed most responsible for war crimes committed during the country's civil war. Pallo Bangura told the Sierra Leone Web that war crimes should not be covered up, but he said it was a question of timing. "Our priorities – and when I say ‘our’ I mean if you talk to the average man in the street, the average Sierra Leonean, the disposition is that we should nurture this peace process," he said. "And the Special Court to many – to most people in fact, really – is not the right track at this critical moment." Bangura said he thought the Truth and Reconciliation Commission should have prepared the groundwork for any future action. "But since we are part of the international community, and since the international community wants it, then I suppose we have not much choice in it, although of course it was government’s idea to ask for the Special Court," he said. Bangura said he didn't expect that prosecutions would lead to new violence in the country, but he said it might depend on how it's done. "If it is selective, then it might be seen as a witch hunt, and I don’t know what would come out of that," he said. "But if...the emphasis is on impunity, how you reconcile the community with the present state of Sierra Leone with anger, bitterness, hardly concealed beneath the surface – honestly, that is for somebody else to decide, but I would have thought we would have spent some more time and resources – build up the economy, reconcile, reintegrate various aspects of the society. This would have been my own personal priority." The former university lecturer, diplomat and politician resigned from the RUFP in July, but up to now he has been unable to find a job. For the past month or so he has been an unpaid volunteer at the Government Rokel Secondary School, helping students to prepare for their exams. "Well it’s a job, kind of, because it’s something I’m enjoying doing  – some contribution I really am committed to," he said. But it doesn't pay the bills. Bangura said at present he had no job prospects that he knew of, and was only surviving "by God’s grace and through some relations."

4 December: Officials from Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) will travel east to Bomaru Wednesday to record their first official statements in the town where, nearly a dozen years ago, the first shots were fired in the country's decade-long civil war. The Sierra Leone army will fire a 21-gun salute and local leaders will pour a libation in honour of the tens of thousands who died during that conflict. Afterwards, the commission's newly-trained statement-takers will fan out across Sierra Leone for three months of interviews with victims of the war and perpetrators. Before they are finished, according to Operations Officer Ozonnia Ojielo, they will have visited all of the country's 149 chiefdoms and taken confidential statements from thousands of people. The testimonies will form the basis for the commission's report on the causes of the war, and its consequences for the people of Sierra Leone. For the TRC, Wednesday's launch was a rare flash of success, and it may be a sign that the troubled commission's woes are finally behind it. Since its inception earlier this year, the TRC has been plagued by financial problems and administrative miscues. Heading the list has been the commission's inability to raise money. International donors, especially the United States, expressed skepticism over the commission's initial $9.6 million budget request. Even after commissioners scaled back their request by a third last July, there was little sign of donor interest and the TRC's fundraising efforts remained stalled. Then, despite several months of lead time, the TRC missed an opportunity for a seamless transition when it failed to hire permanent staff in time to replace the interim advisors and consultants whose temporary contracts expired in early October. Plans to move from temporary offices on Pademba Road to quarters in the government's old Agriculture Building on Tower Hill had to be shelved after commissioners decided the offices would prove too costly to repair. In September, the commission entered its operational phase without a permanent staff or offices of its own. Most of the blame for the TRC's management problems was laid at the door of Yasmin Jusu-Sheriff, the TRC's Interim Executive-Secretary. After an initial two-week extension in October, her contract was not renewed and she is no longer a candidate for the permanent position. "We had serious management problems during the preparatory period," one commissioner said. "Many of the objectives were not attained. Some of the staff hired by Yasmin did not appear to be very productive. All of this, inevitably, reflects upon her." But a source close to the TRC thinks that at least part of the blame for failing to hire new staff should go to the commissioners. "Unfortunately, the commissioners delayed without cause," he said. In an interview last week with the Sierra Leone Web, TRC chairman Bishop Joseph Humper (pictured left) acknowledged that the commission's problems were "man-made" and "a result of bureaucracy," but he insisted that the commissioners had done their best. Humper related that the TRC had turned to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) for assistance in the recruitment process. "We were asked to look for a firm and we contacted many people and they brought in their quotations," he said. "It was too high – we did not have the money to hire those people. So we went to UNDP and other areas. They promised to assist us." Representatives from the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCHR) and the UNDP failed to follow through, Humper said, and the job of sorting through applications fell to the commissioners. It was a task, he said, that they were not prepared for. "We here as commission members, we did what was humanly possible," he said. "We sorted all of this out and took everything – the short-listed pile and all the document applications – all of them – to UNDP. And they said they were going to look through that to help us to come up with something." The positions were finally advertised on September 17, with a closing date of September 30. Then, after the applications were in and the short-listing had begun, the process had to be halted because of reported flaws in the procedures. Humper blamed two of the international commissioners, Prof. William Schabas of Ireland and Yasmin Sooka of South Africa, for the delay, and suggested it was because they were unhappy that two candidates had not been considered for positions. "Probably those (Schabas) had asked to apply, he did not see their names (on the list)," he said. "And so according to him the elections were flawed...They condemned everything that we did, and that is what they sent to Geneva. And so they had to cancel the first process which would have enabled us to get the staff." Schabas (right), who was contacted in Ireland for this report, confirmed he had raised concerns over why the two had not been considered, but he said it was a question of the process, not of the individual candidates. "I had no campaign for these two people," he said. "I looked through the list to see what had happened, and there were things that weren’t properly explained." Schabas said he was eventually told one applicant had applied a day too late, and that he never received an explanation as to why the other was not considered. And, he said, there didn't seem to be any documentation as to why some candidates were considered while others were not. "The short list was the only list," he said. "There was no other list. There was just a short list, and other than that there was a pile of CVs. So there was no explanation as to why people were short-listed or weren’t short-listed – at least that I saw." Of greater concern, he said, was the fact that the jobs had not been advertised as being local or higher-paid international positions. The decision to start over was taken by the UNDP, he said, and the decision to refer the matter to the agency was taken at a meeting held while he was out of the country. "It was their decision that we should begin again the process," he said. Now, there are signs that things may be back on track. The deadline for new applications closed on November 30 and a new Executive-Secretary – there are six candidates – is expected to be announced by the end of the month. The TRC has secured a block of office space in the old Brookfields Hotel, which until recently was home to hundreds of pro-government militiamen and their families. The move should take place before the end of the year. And both Humper and Schabas pointed out that there were positive signs. Recent "sensitisation" visits by commissioners to educate people in the rural areas over the TRC's function were well-received. And Humper said he was confident donors would come to the TRC's assistance once they saw the commission was making progress. "They have promised us that they will do something – promises yet," he said. "And we have come to them that once they see us actually working on the ground here, something positive will come out." Schabas observed that when the history of the TRC is written, October and November would not come off as its brightest periods. But, he said, the commission was too important for the people of Sierra Leone for it to be allowed to fail.

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously Wednesday to extend by six months the ban on the sale of all rough Sierra Leonean diamonds, except for those exported by the Government of Sierra Leone under a U.N.-approved Certificate of Origin regime. Earlier, a Sierra Leonean diplomat told the Sierra Leone Web that the ban was likely to be extended at Wednesday's Council meeting, adding: "We have no objection to the proposal." A previous extension, which expires on Wednesday, was for eleven months. In July 2000 the Security Council imposed a global ban on the sale of rough Sierra Leonean diamonds as a way of cutting off the rebel Revolutionary United Front from its main source of funds. The Council made an exception, however, for diamonds whose origin could be certified by the government as having come from legitimate sources. That system was set up with the assistance of the United Nations and the diamond industry, and in late October 2000 the first parcel of diamonds was exported under the new system – a system which, by many accounts, has to date achieved only limited success. In December 2001 the Security Council extended the ban by eleven months, with effect from 5 January 2002.

Four Sierra Leoneans were among 98 foreign prisoners from 27 countries who were released in Thailand Wednesday in honour of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's 75th birthday, the Agence France-Presse reported. Most of those released had been convicted on offences such as illegal entry, over-staying their visas, or using fake documents, an immigration official was quoted as saying.

3 December: Sierra Leone conducted its first chieftaincy elections since 1992 on Monday, with the election of new paramount chiefs in Dasse Chiefdom in the south, Dama Chiefdom in the east, and Paki-Masabong Chiefdom in the north. Through January 20, elections are scheduled for 63 of the country's 149 chiefdoms which have lost their traditional leaders over the past decade. Monday's elections were a "sign of the restoration of civil authority" following Sierra Leone's ten years of civil war and "symbolic of the return of normalcy," Local Government and Community Development Minister Sidikie Brima told the Sierra Leone Web. In Dasse Chiefdom, Moyamba District, Haja Fatmata Bintu Koroma Meama Kajue received the support of 138 of the 170 electors, defeating Hangbai Joseph Luama Musa (one vote), David Sylvester Fallah Kajue (nine votes), William Prince Bunduka Musa Hangbai (ten votes) and Joseph Sylvester Meama Kajue (twelve votes). In Dama Chiefdom, Kenema District, Sandy Momoh Fowai easily defeated Prince D.B. Dakowa, 358 votes to 22. And in Paki-Masabong Chiefdom, Bombali District, the winner was Amadu Augustine Conteh with 229 votes over Alfred George Conteh, who received 32.

Sierra Leone's newly-constituted Special Court now has three years to go after and prosecute those political and military leaders in Sierra Leone and in the region thought to bear the greatest responsibility for the systematic atrocities carried out during the country's civil war, Court President Geoffrey Robertson told the BBC. "In the course of those three years we hope to try and to deal with on appeal those whom the prosecution indicts on the allegations that they have been responsible for the kind of barbarity that qualifies for the description of crime against humanity," he said. Robertson, who is an English Queens Counsel and head of the Doughty Street Chambers, described atrocities carried out in Sierra Leone during the 1990s as "truly barbarous."  "They are the crimes of mass murder, the killing of innocent civilians, I suppose the mutilation on a systematic basis of the arms and legs of people who voted in the elections, the recruiting of small children to use them as killers or otherwise as sex slaves for some of the rebel groups," he said. Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal is expected to prosecute just a handful of people, probably no more than 20 or 30 of those thought to be most responsible for those crimes. Robertson said the Special Court for Sierra Leone, unlike previous tribunals for Rwanda and Yugoslavia, would start at the top. "The International Tribunal in the Hague had to start with a minor foot soldier back in 1995 and finally got to Mr. Milosevic in the year 2001," he said. "We are starting with the Mr. Milosevics of Sierra Leone and that area. We are waiting for the prosecution to assemble a group of indictments of those political and military leaders who are most responsible."

Sierra Leone's once-feared rebels will cooperate with the Special Court, the group's interim leader said on Tuesday. Issa Sesay, until recently better known as General Issa, the rebel commander who inherited the leadership of the splintered Revolutionary United Front (RUF) after the arrest of the charismatic Foday Sankoh in May 2000, says now that his rebel group is only interested in peace. "Maybe the court will be against me, I can’t tell," he told the Sierra Leone Web. "The only thing I know (is) that we are subject to others – I mean, towards the international community. And I try very hard to persuade the men, thousands of men in the RUF and now the RUFP, for them to disarm or to give the peace a chance." But Sesay said all those who took part in the conflict should have to answer questions – not just the RUF. "Not only the RUF did take part during the war," he said. "You have many factions, and you have mercenaries who came in the country." Sesay and other RUF leaders once suggested that any prosecution of Sankoh for war crimes could lead to further bloodshed in the country. But now, he says, that is all in the past. "As far as I’m concerned as an interim leader for the RUFP, we don’t have no more intention in terms of fighting," he said. "In fact, we don’t even have the strength. We are dedicated to the peace with whatsoever conditions. They can charge Foday Sankoh in the Special Court...We have no more interest in terms of violence. We are very peaceful guys now. And some of us, we even want to further our educational standard instead of just being in war activities. People are dying of war in this country and people are tired of war." One of the remaining concerns for Sierra Leone's still-fragile peace is the upsurge of violence in neighbouring Liberia, where hundreds of former RUF combatants are reported to be fighting for both the government forces and LURD rebels. Sesay insisted he had no knowledge of how many of his former fighters might be involved in the Liberian conflict. "Since the disarmament has took place, I’m not in control of these men," he said. "These men are Sierra Leoneans. The time during the days of war, I’m in control. But now, since the disarmament, I’m not capable of feeding them or neither taking care of them." Of his own involvement with the RUF, Sesay will say little – only that he joined the group in 1990 or 1991. "I think these questions are for the Special Court, so let’s just wait for the Special Court," he said. "We should not be answering questions before the court." If he has the chance, Sesay said, he would like to go back to school. And if he is indicted by the court, will be cooperate? Sesay laughs. "I have to go," he said. "I will never challenge. I will never challenge. For me, I have to clarify myself. I want to be a very peaceful gentleman in my future, so I need no more further embarrassment. Any time the court calls me, I’m available."

Pointing to the end of his country's civil war, the holding of peaceful elections, and hopeful signs for economic recovery, President Kabbah observed Tuesday that "2002 has been a very good year for the nation as a whole." In an address to mark the Muslim and Christian holidays of Eid-ul-Fitri and Christmas and the New Year of 2003, Kabbah hailed Sierra Leone's tradition of religious tolerance as one of his country's greatest assets. "Religious tolerance is an effective instrument for national reconciliation," he said. "It is a powerful tool for nation-building and the consolidation of peace." The common denominators found in the two religions, he said, could be used "to remove those stumbling blocks that tend to separate us from one another and deter our progress as a nation – the stumbling blocks of tribalism and regionalism, the stumbling blocks of corruption and exploitation, and the stumbling blocks of character assassination and unjustified suspicion, to name a few." The president called on Sierra Leoneans to have confidence in their future, but he warned that while the country had come a long way with the end of the war and the carrying out of a successful democratic process, that these alone would not solve all of Sierra Leone's problems. Said Kabbah: "They have created a conducive environment for us to concentrate on the task of improving the economic and social well being of our people, of rebuilding our battered infrastructure and of reconstructing the national psyche, so that from now onward we shall move forward as a nation that has learnt from its bitter past experiences and resolute in our determination to break from that ugly past."

2 December: The eight judges chosen to preside over Sierra Leone's Special Court took their oaths of office Monday, pledging they would carry out their duties "honestly, faithfully, impartially and conscientiously" as they were sworn in at an official ceremony in Freetown. The court, a war crimes tribunal which was formed jointly by the Sierra Leone government and the United Nations, is mandated to prosecute the handful of persons deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed in Sierra Leone during the latter half of the country's decade-long civil war. The judges –  five of them Africans, two Europeans and one a North American – immediately elected Geoffrey Robertson of Britain as President of the Court, while Rosolu John Bankole Thompson of Sierra Leone was chosen to preside over the Trial Chamber. The Special Court, under the statute agreed between the Sierra Leone government and the United Nations, consists of two chambers: a three-member Trial Chamber and a five-member Appeals Chamber. A majority of the judges in each chamber was selected by the United Nations, and the others were chosen by the Government of Sierra Leone. The Trial Chamber will consist of Rosolu John Bankole Thompson, a Sierra Leonean High Court Judge and currently Professor of Law at Eastern Kentucky University; Pierre Boutet, a liaison officer in Canada's Defence Department and former Judge Advocate General of the Canadian forces; and Benjamin Mutanga Itoe, a Cameroonian Supreme Court Judge. Presiding over the Appeals Chamber will be Nigerian Supreme Court Justice Emmanuel O. Ayoola; Gambian Supreme Court Justice Alhaji Hassan B. Jallow, Kosovo Supreme Court Justice Renate Winter of Austria, Sierra Leone Appeals Court President George Gelaga King, and British Queen's Counsel Geoffrey Robertson.

Absent from Monday's swearing-in of the judges who will preside over the Special Court for Sierra Leone were some of the most visible, and vocal, victims of atrocities in Sierra Leone's civil war – the members of the War Affected Amputee Association. The Association, which has long been at odds with the government over what it perceives as the unequal treatment given to perpetrators over victims in the conflict, said they would refuse to take part in any ceremony attended by senior government officials. "This government has used us and lied to us and we will not play any part in this ceremony. We will not let them use us to bring credit or legitimacy to their unaccountable regime. They are part of the problem and not the solution," Association President Lamin Jusu Jaka said in a statement. The group said it would support the court, however, as long as it was independent of the government "and willing to look even to the highest offices of this land."   "The amputees believe that the root causes of our suffering are selfishness and lack of accountability in government and among other powerful individuals," the group said. "This impunity caused the war and continues to block development and serious relief to our community."

Sierra Leone's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has invited 68 governments, diamond dealers, civil society groups, political parties, members of security forces, and individuals to submit information on the roles they played in the country's civil war. The list includes present and former government officials, members of the NPRC and AFRC military juntas and the RUF, as well as a host of local groups and international institutions. The list is expected to grow in length as other "role-players" are identified. In a statement released on Monday, the TRC said it wanted those invited to address "the causes of the conflict, the roles of actors, institutions and countries as well as recommendations in regard to how a repetition of the conflict can be avoided, how victims may be assisted to overcome their suffering and have their dignity restored, as well as addressing the issue of how perpetrators may be reintegrated into the society in order that the nation may be healed and this society rebuilt."

1 December: Sierra Leoneans who suffer from AIDS should not be blamed for their plight by a society looking to avoid its responsibility in dealing with the disease as a public health issue, President Kabbah said Sunday in an address marking World AIDS Day. Since 1987, 3,599 persons in Sierra Leone have tested positive for the HIV virus which causes AIDS. 794 people have developed full-blown symptoms of the disease, and 438 of these have died. A study conducted last April concluded that 4.9 percent of Sierra Leoneans are HIV-positive, with the infection rate in Freetown as high as 6.1 percent. Kabbah noted that while the disease is a biological phenomenon, the AIDS epidemic had to be faced as both a public health issue and a development problem. And he said the causes of AIDS – high-risk sexual behaviour, prostitution and drug abuse – had to be discussed openly, without stigmatizing the victims. "Making moral judgements over compatriots who are already victims of HIV/AIDS serves little purpose," he said. "It does not help the sick get better. It does not prevent infection or stop people from taking drugs. Blaming people does not help stop the disease from spreading. In fact it does the reverse. It increases the negative impact of the pandemic, and creates obstacles to fighting and treating the disease." Kabbah said the newly-formed HIV/AIDS Council, which he chairs, and the National HIV/AIDS Secretariat attached to his office would work together to reduce the stigmatization and discrimination which are often attached to AIDS sufferers. To this end, the president proposed  conducting information and awareness campaigns on the disease; working to provide medical care, counseling and support for those who are infected by the virus, making available drugs for those who suffer from AIDS, and strengthening laws to challenge discrimination against those who are forced to live with HIV.