The Sierra Leone Web


December 1996

31 December: The Sierra Leone government has reduced rice quotas given at subsidised prices to the security services, and they will be reduced by at least 50 percent in the next five years, according to Finance Minister Thaimu Bangura. He did not disclose the number of bags of rice curtailed, but said that about 50,000 bags are supplied monthly to the army, the police, and the prisons. According to a source, "We are experiencing a lot of difficulties in honoring the colossal sum in rice checks issued to contractors which is running into several billions of leones." The source stated that prisoners' diet would not be affected and that "only those supplies given to officers are being reduced." The subsidised price of rice is at about $1.00 a bag, while civilians pay more than $20.00. The practice of subsidising rice to the military was started by the late President Siaka P. Stevens in order to augment the low salary structure of the armed forces. Each private was entitled to two bags; a senior officer received ten or more bags. The practice has been carried on by successive governments. In 1996 Sierra Leone spent $30,000 to import rice from Pakistan, Burma, the Philippines, and China.

The leone's nominal exchange rate against the U.S. dollar as of December 31, 1996 was pegged at Le 820.00 to $1.00. The previous rate was Le 700.00 to $1.00.

24 December: Some of the civilians arrested in connection with an alleged coup attempt by Steve Bio are reported to have been released. Those freed were employees of Bio's helicopter company, Soruss Airlines.

Sierra Leone's soccer team has slipped to 84th place in the FIFA rankings as of December 20. The team's ranking fell 18 places since November 20th, and 26 places from its 58th place ranking a year ago. The FIFA ranking is based on the team's 32.78 ratings points.

23 December: The international development banks which made loans to Sierra Rutile Limited have agreed to a six-month extension of an existing debt forbearance agreement. Under the extension, the banks have agreed to refrain from taking any action to collect the loans through July 1, 1997 unless there is a material change in circumstances. As a condition of the agreement, Sierra Rutile has agreed to prepay interest of $2.4 million due through June 30, 1997 on the loans of $45.5 million. The extension allows Sierra Rutile an additional six months to finalize plans to reopen the rutile mine, including long-term security at the mine site, security necessary financing, and negotiating amendments to the Sierra Rutile mining agreement with the government.

19 December: Rex Diamond Mining Corporation, which owns the mining rights to the Tongo Fields, released survey results confirming that the Tongo Fields deposits are among the richest in the world, with an average value of $175.00 and an estimated grade of $140.00 per ton. The company expects to release further survey results in January 1997. Technical support and logistical expertise for the development of the Tongo Fields will initially be provided by Rex's office in South Africa, according to a company press release.

18 December: Eleven people have been arrested for an alleged plot to overthrow the government, according to a report published Wednesday in Freetown's state-run Daily Mail newspaper. The newspaper said the plot was organized by Steve Bio, relative of former NPRC leader Brigadier Julius Maada Bio. Those being held at Pademba Road Prison reportedly include Steve Bio's father-in-law, two Russian helicopter technicians, and six soldiers. Steve Bio remains at large and is rumored to have escaped to Senegal. The paper said that sporadic shooting was heard on Monday in the hills around President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah's residence in the predawn hours. Steve Bio is managing director of Soruss Airlines and Tilda Atlantic Transport Company, which moved cargo around the country by helicopter and truck during the civil war. The helicopters were temporarily grounded in June after being found to be unsafe.

16 December: Sierra Leone's soccer team ranks 66th in the world, according to the latest FIFA rankings dated November 20 and published on 16 December. Sierra Leone, with 35.67 ratings points, slipped one place since the last rankings, and slid from 58th place a year ago. The Sierra Leone team is scheduled to play Gabon in a second round world cup qualifying match on 12 January 1997.

France has postponed a shipment of wheat flour to Sierra Leone. The French national grain office, ONIC, had previously said that the shipment would be delivered to Freetown between January 13 and February 1, 1997. No new timetable has been disclosed.

14 December: The Sierra Leone government and the Revolutionary United Front have reportedly begun implementing provisions of the peace agreement signed November 30 in Abidjan.

13 December: A Sabena Airbus 310 bound for Belgium was forced to abort its takeoff at Lungi Airport Wednesday night when a flock of birds flew into one of the plane's engines. Just before the plane was to lift up the birds clogged the engines, causing the pilot to slam on the brakes. All eight of the plane's tires burst. None of the plane's 175 passengers was injured. The aircraft still blocked the runway on Friday, virtually closing the airport.

12 December: The expected appointment of Charles Margai to fill the National Unity Party (NUP) vacancy in parliament has not taken place. Margai has reportedly defected to the SLPP, the party which his father helped to found. His name has been struck from the NUP list, and under the APR system he is no longer eligible for a parliamentary seat. The vacancy was caused when NUP leader John Karimu was appointed to the cabinet. Dr. Ahmed Dumbuya, deputy leader of the NUP, has been appointed leader of the party in parliament following John Karimu's resignation to take up the ministerial post.

The treason trial of 9 soldiers accused of an alleged coup attempt last September will begin on December 19. The accused, who include Major Johnny Paul Koroma and a woman, made a brief appearance in court on December 10.

11 December: France will ship 3,650 tons of soft wheat flour to Sierra Leone as food aid, according to the national grain office ONIC. The shipment will take place between January 13 and February 1, 1997.

10 December: The Sierra Leone government has strongly denied reports of a massacre Thursday at Kubehuna and Magbenka in Tonkolili District, 90 miles north of Freetown. The reports said that 150 people had been killed by unknown gunmen. "The reports threatened to undermine the increasingly cordial relations between the RUF and the government," presidential advisor Sheka Mansaray said. "Several donor countries have informed the government since the signing of the accord of their willingness to contribute to the government's plea for $1 billion to rebuild and resettle the country. These reports threaten to keep donors away." The story was attributed to a witness and a local newspaper, and was picked up by international news services. Mansaray said that neither the government nor international representatives had found evidence to confirm the attack.

9 December: The World Food Programme will end general food distribution in Sierra Leone by December 31, in order to concentrate on resettlement and rehabilitation programs, according to a WFP weekly report released on December 9. The report said some 25,000 returnees in Pujehun District have received WFP "return packages" through World Vision and CSSL. The report also stated that assembly points for the disarmament and demobilisation of RUF combatants have been identified. Sierra Leone has received $1.5 million for the total government demobilisation programme, but needs $35 million, according to the report.

2 December: Monday, December 2 has been declared a holiday to celebrate the signing of the peace agreement.

Nord Resources Corporation, a 50% owner of Sierra Rutile, said that the peace agreement will help expedite the reopening of the Sierra Rutile mine. The company is reviewing its previously announced timetable for resumption of production in late 1997 or early 1998.