The Sierra Leone Web


December 1998

31 December: ECOMOG troops repelled an AFRC/RUF rebel attack Thursday on their military barracks near the garrison town of Hastings, according to an ECOMOG spokesman. Residents fleeing the town reported that the rebels had attacked overnight, and said they had also attacked the Hastings Air Field. The spokesman said ECOMOG was forced to abandon its frontline trenches at Hastings during the initial onslaught. At least 40 persons were killed in the fighting, he added. Residents said the fighting had stopped by mid-morning, but that ECOMOG soldiers later shelled hills around the town.

The fighting at Hastings followed attacks Wednesday on Waterloo and Lunsar. Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer told a news conference Thursday that ECOMOG had driven the rebels back from Waterloo. "ECOMOG troops killed a lot of rebels in their attack yesterday on Waterloo," he said. He said the rebels had just attacked an ECOMOG barracks near Kossoh Town. "The infiltration of rebels into the Peninsular area is a cause for concern," Spencer said, but told reporters that those who had attacked Kossoh Town and Waterloo were cut off from the rear and trapped. BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle said hundreds of pro-government militiamen, armed with shotguns, knives, and spears, were massing for a probable new operation against the rebels. He quoted government sources as saying a counter-offensive would begin soon.

Spencer repeated assurances that the rebels posed no military threat to Freetown, and he said they were mounting attacks near the capital in order to create a negative psychological effect on the population. Spencer dismissed as "disinformation" a statement by United Nations Special Envoy Francis Okelo that the northern half of Sierra Leone was under rebel control, but conceded that an area in the centre of the country was held by the insurgents. He said about five towns in the north were under rebel control: Lunsar, Makeni, Binkolo, Kamabai, and Kabumbe. He said ECOMOG controlled Kabala, all of Kambia District, parts of Port Loko District, and all of Tonkolili and Koinadugu Districts. He said there was no rebel activity in the south, while in the east the rebels were still holding Koidu and had tried to attack Daru.

Spencer noted that the rebels had mounted attacks on Port Loko and Lunsar on Wednesday, and he reported that Lunsar had fallen. A "senior ECOMOG commander" quoted by the Associated Press denied that Lunsar was under rebel control, but he acknowledged that rebel forces were in the area. Spencer told reporters that Makeni was also in rebel hands. Aid workers and "sources close to" the Civil Defence Forces (CDF) militia told Reuters, however, that the rebels had pulled out of Makeni and that the CDF was now in control. CDF sources said the rebels left Makeni in three groups, one heading for their eastern base, one moving toward Lunsar, and one going in the direction of Port Loko.

Heavy fighting raged between ECOMOG troops and AFRC/RUF rebels Thursday for control of Port Loko, which has been mostly deserted by its civilian population. The town came under attack by hundreds of rebel fighters on Wednesday. "Our jet fighters bombed their positions in the town," an ECOMOG spokesman said. Journalist Emmanuel Turay, who fled Port Loko on Thursday, said rebels and ECOMOG troops held different parts of the town, and that both sides were firing mortars. "The death toll is not clear but there are bodies lying in the streets," he said. Spencer said the rebels had attacked Port Loko, but had been turned back. The Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted residents of nearby villages who reported hearing prolonged bombardments throughout the night directed at areas of suspected rebel concentration.

A spokesman for RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie claimed Thursday that the rebels had captured Segbwema and that heavy fighting was going on at Daru. Spencer said ECOMOG and the Civil Defence Forces were moving towards the Sierra Leone-Liberia border to seal off the area. He said ECOMOG maintained a strong presence in the towns of Zimmi, Gufor, and Wonde. "There is the possibility of the war ending militarily," Spencer said. "But this does not mean that if the rebels laid down their arms, we would not talk peace." Kamajor sources were quoted as saying that the area between the Moa River and the Liberian border are now fully under the control of the Civil Defence Forces.

ECOMOG troops closed roads from Freetown to Waterloo and Hastings on Thursday to prevent rebel infiltrators from reaching the capital by mingling with fleeing civilians, an ECOMOG spokesman said. Police in Freetown announced Thursday that about 300 civilians had been detained as suspected infiltrators.

Nigeria sent further reinforcements to Freetown on Thursday. The Nigerian government has reportedly sent more than 9,000 troops since the weekend, bringing the total strength of the ECOMOG force to around 19,000. An ECOMOG spokesman said Wednesday that additional battalions would continue to arrive from Nigeria, and that ECOMOG's strength could reach 20,000 by the end of the week. He said that of the other ECOWAS countries which had promised to send troops, the only ones to arrive were 200 Ghana who had had transferred from Liberia in the week. According to estimates reported by Reuters, rebel strength could exceed 20,000 while the Civil Defence Forces militia, made up of various hunters' militias, numbers about 30,000.

Gambian President Yayah Jammeh will begin to mediate in the Sierra Leone conflict shortly, Gambia's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Mohamed Lamin Sedat Jobe, said Wednesday. "The Gambia's stance has been that of an apostle of peace," he said.  Jobe said Jammeh did not believe in the use of arms to resolve the conflict. "The president, after consultation with both parties in the conflict, has decided to mediate based on the fact that his offer has been solicited, welcomed and he feels comfortable in doing it," Jobe declared. He added that Gambia was working to end or lessen the killing and maiming going on in Sierra Leone. Jobe said Gambia would follow through on its promise to supply troops to the ECOMOG force, but that Gambia had a new role in Sierra Leone other than contributing troops. He claimed Jammeh was the first person to make an international offer to mediate the conflict, and that his offer had been supported by many nations. At the recently concluded Committee of Six foreign ministers conference, he said, Sierra Leone's file was handed over to Gambia. Asked about the death sentence imposed on RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, Jobe said Gambia could not involve itself in the judicial system of a another sovereign nation. "Anyway, I am made to understand that Sankoh has appealed against the sentence," he said.

Liberian President Charles Taylor has offered to put pressure on RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh to help restore peace in Sierra Leone. Sankoh is currently jailed in Freetown, appealing his conviction and death sentence on treason charges. "With our knowledge of Sankoh, we may be able to exert some pressure to bring about peace," Taylor said in a press conference. "Sankoh is part of the problem in Sierra Leone and should be part of the solution." He added that "Sankoh is better alive than dead," because if he were to die in jail the war in Sierra Leone might continue for a long time. Taylor called on the U.S. Special Envoy to Africa, Rev. Jesse Jackson, to help find a peaceful solution to the Sierra Leone crisis. "We believe Reverend Jackson can bring a whole lot of credibility to the process in solving the problem in Sierra Leone," he said. Taylor said his government "supports and recognizes the government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, and we do not support the (rebel) activities against President Kabbah in Sierra Leone in any shape or form...But we still believe that the way forward is a ceasefire on all sides, and for President Kabbah to dialogue with the rebels rather than continue to fight them." Taylor denied any Liberian government involvement in the Sierra Leone conflict, but he acknowledged that there were Liberians fighting alongside the rebels. "It is very clear and factual that there are Liberians in Sierra Leone fighting," he said. "Liberians have been used as mercenaries in Sierra Leone for a long time by all governments of Sierra Leone," he said. "They have always been there -- about 3,000 of them. But they are there on their own."

Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer accused Taylor on Thursday of "not doing anything to prevent rebels from crossing his border into Sierra Leone." Spencer threatened that if the situation were not checked, "We shall have to exercise our right of hot pursuit." 

Nigerian U.N. Ambassador Ibrahim Gambari met with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to press for urgent assistance for ECOWAS's efforts in Sierra Leone. Gambari appealed for the U.N. to tighten the arms embargo on Liberia and to prevent the illegal supply of weapons into Sierra Leone. He also asked the Council to investigate countries accused of violating the arms embargo to the rebels, naming Liberia and Ukrainian mercenaries. He pleaded with the Council to prevail upon the international community to honour pledges of support they made to ECOMOG, and for the U.N. to be more proactive in getting member nations to assist Sierra Leone. Gambari warned that, with Nigeria's financial problems and after the country's elections in May, a continuation of its involvement at present levels was impossible. "With democratisation coming, it is impossible to expect such a new government to continue to maintain such levels of external involvement, which is very expensive," he said. Gambari said after the meeting that he had received a positive response from the five permanent Council members. "They said they will bring all these concerns to the council immediately and to convey all these urgent requests to their respective countries," he said.

30 December: AFRC/RUF rebels have reportedly attacked Lunsar, and travellers returning from the area Wednesday told Reuters that the rebels were poised to capture the town. An ECOMOG spokesman said he had no details on Lunsar's status.

Hundreds of surrendered soldiers of the former Sierra Leone Army who were demobilised near Freetown have been detained at Pademba Road Prison, National Security Advisor Siaka Mansaray said on Wednesday. "The soldiers and officers of the former national army are being confined for their own security and for the security of the state,'' Mansaray said. The Agence France-Presse (AFP) said about 20 truckloads of soldiers were brought from garrisons at Lungi and Benguema in a three-day operation. One source was quoted as saying that the internment was a "precautionary measure" because increasing numbers of the soldiers were said to be joining the rebels. An official of the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone said "the detention of the soldiers for their own protection does not put the (Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration) Programme in danger."

The United Nations announced Tuesday that it had relocated most of its humanitarian staff and military observers to Conakry, Guinea in view of the deteriorating security situation. Only 18 humanitarian staff remain. The United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) has withdrawn 50 of its 67 civilian and military observers. 17, including UNOMSIL chief Brigadier-General Subhash Chand Joshi, will remain.

The Liberian government has denied local news reports that it arrested a number Sierra Leonean Kamajor militiamen on the Liberian side of the border. A government press release, quoted by Liberia Communications Network Radio, described the story as a complete fabrication "with the sole intent to create panic in the minds of citizens and foreign nationals residing around the border areas." The government said military raids were only carried out in areas where the government suspected enemy activity, and that the towns mentioned in the reports were calm. "There was no sign in the area that (the Armed Forces of Liberia) raided any border town, neither were there arrests of civilians by the AFL or state security forces deployed in the areas."

Liberian Vice President Enoch Dogolea Jr. said Wednesday that only dialogue can resolve the Sierra Leone conflict, while denying that Liberia is supporting AFRC/RUF rebels in the country. "I think the government, under the leadership of President Taylor, has made it clear...we are not involved in supporting any rebel activities in Sierra Leone," he said. "Looking at the entire scenario, it is very naïve for anyone to think that Liberia, having gone through these tribulations in Liberia for seven consecutive years, will submit itself into the process to destablise any government in the sub-region...It is amazing for President Tejan Kabbah to send such a report while we are doing everything to bring peace and stability to people in Sierra Leone. And I want to make it clear that what some of these African leaders are advocating for is just to divide and rule, to destroy Africa. That is their dream, and we cannot support that." Dogolea also lashed out at the United States in response to a State Department statement implicating Liberia in supporting the rebels. "Look at the statement from the great United States, you all know, condemning Liberia for its involvement in the crisis in Sierra Leone while this matter has not been fully investigated by some of their officials. I mean, it is very amazing that African leaders could submit themselves to this type of process," he said. "Sometimes they are (making the accusations) so the international community will not give us some assistance to the Liberian government. But if they do not want to help us, fine, they should leave us alone instead of tarnishing our image in the international community."

Liberia's ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP) has called allegations of Liberian support for AFRC/RUF rebels in Sierra Leone a propaganda ploy. NPP Secretary-General Cyril Allen called the allegations a communist diversionary plot aimed at undermining Liberia's democratic process. Allen accused the ECOMOG high command of trying to "strangulate" the Liberian government economically by connecting Liberia with the Sierra Leone crisis. He said some key Liberian opposition members were involved in an international conspiracy, adding that it was naive to believe the NPP government would support the war in Sierra Leone.

A senior Catholic priest, Superior Father Perez of the Xaverian order, said Wednesday that church officials had lost contact with four foreign missionary priests who were based at Kamabai. The priests, who had previously been in regular radio contact, have not been heard from four about five days. "We have been trying to reach them unsuccessfully and we cannot travel on vehicles as the main highway is closed to traffic," Perez said. Two of the missing priests are from Spain, one from Congo, and one from the Philippines. Meanwhile, two priests who were reported missing from the Catholic Mission at Magburaka have arrived at Bo after a three day journey. "They were in reasonable health," Perez noted.

Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer has said that the government is open to dialogue with the rebels, but not to power-sharing. "If the rebels want power there are elections in 2-1/2 years time. They should form a political party and if they win they can rule the country,'' he said. With respect to RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh, currently appealing a conviction and death sentence on treason charges, Spencer said the law must run its course. "This is a country in which the rule of law must be upheld,'' he said. "Sankoh is going through the judicial process and neither the president nor anybody else has the right or the power to intervene to release him.''

Guinean ECOMOG artillery units fired into the hills east of Freetown for a second successive day on Wednesday. They said they suspected rebel infiltrators were hiding there. Witnesses said there was no return fire.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Chief Emeka Anyaoku, in his New Year's message, pointed to a "notable advance" in Sierra Leone, although the security situation in the country has deteriorated because of a renewed rebel offensive. "I hope that the resurgent rebel activity, which has intensified in recent days, will be swiftly and effectively dealt with," Anyaoku said. He added that the ousting of the AFRC military junta in February and the restoration of the elected civilian government had demonstrated the Commonwealth's commitment to democracy.

29 December: 1,000 additional Nigerian soldiers arrived in Sierra Leone on Tuesday, bringing the total strength of the ECOMOG force to over 14,000, according to an ECOMOG spokesman. "This batch of 1,000 men brings the total of Nigerian troops flown into Freetown to 3,000 since Sunday," he said. "Several thousand more men will be flown in within the week." The Agence France-Presse (AFP), quoting "reliable sources", said ECOMOG had some 9,500 troops in Sierra Leone, 7,000 of them Nigerian, prior to the arrival of additional Nigerian soldiers on Sunday. Nigeria has also brought in three warplanes, increasing the number operating in the country to at least seven. A senior Ghanaian Defence Ministry official said ECOMOG troops were now concentrating on defending Freetown. "We have sent some men and officers to help beef up what is already on the ground," he said.

ECOMOG sent 300 troops toward Lunsar Tuesday as RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie claimed his forces had captured the town. Bockarie said the rebels seized Lunsar on Tuesday after heavy fighting with ECOMOG troops. "We have captured Lunsar, and ECOMOG soldiers are now on the run," Bockarie said. He added that 60 Nigerian soldiers had been killed in the fighting. An ECOMOG official dismissed the claim "pure propaganda," adding: "There was no fighting in Lunsar today." Local journalists reporting from Port Loko said the rebels had overrun villages between Lunsar and Makeni, and reported hearing explosions and gunfire around Lunsar on Tuesday. A member of the United Nations Military Observer Force in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) said that as of mid-day Tuesday the ECOMOG unit had reported no military confrontation. A "U.N. humanitarian official" said there had been reports of "civilian movements" from Lunsar. Bockarie said his forces would continue to head toward Freetown despite calls by ECOWAS for negotiations. "The issue is not laying down arms. The issue is dialogue and getting our leader Foday Sankoh released from prison," Bockarie said. "This is our ultimatum. If a dialogue is not started we will have to invade Freetown. They have 48 hours." He repeated his call for Burkinabe President and current OAU Chairman Blaise Compaore to mediate between the rebels and President Kabbah. "We are still appealing to the OAU chairman to prevail on ECOWAS and the Tejan Kabbah government to respond positively to our demand for dialogue," Bockarie said. "But we will not stop shelling Freetown until we see the Tejan Kabbah government out."

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has repeated his offer to mediate between the Sierra Leone government and the rebels, and has reportedly called on the U.N., the OAU, and ECOWAS to let him handle the crisis. Referring to the conflict in Guinea Bissau, Jammeh said, "I initiated and handled the negotiations in Bissau before involving the full support of the international community," adding that only a peaceful settlement of the crisis will work in Sierra Leone. Jammeh first offered to mediate during President Kabbah's four-day state visit to Banjul in early December, but he said he had heard nothing since Kabbah returned to Freetown.

The United Nations Security Council issued a statement Tuesday condemning renewed fighting and atrocities by AFRC/RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. "The members of the Council are gravely concerned about the situation in Sierra Leone. Council members condemn atrocities by rebel forces, assisted by external factors to those rebel forces," the Council said in a statement read out by its current president, Ambassador Jassim Mohammed Buallay of Bahrain. "They call upon states concerned to take immediate action to cease the interference in Sierra Leone's domestic affairs," he said in an apparent reference to Liberia. The Council called on U.N. member states to strengthen the arms embargo against AFRC/RUF rebels and against Liberia, where a U.N. arms embargo remains in effect.

The Liberian government has reacted to scathing criticism of its alleged role in aiding AFRC/RUF rebels fighting in Sierra Leone by threatening to withdraw from the ECOWAS Committee of Five on Sierra Leone, which is charged with finding a solution to the country's civil conflict. A statement issued by the Liberian government on Tuesday said it "views with disappointment and indignation" suggestions that the Liberian government is backing rebels fighting to overthrow Sierra Leone's civilian government. It said Liberia was being destabilised by the use of Liberian mercenaries by a succession of Sierra Leonean regimes to increase their security. "The government of Liberia considers this situation as grave," it said, and called on President Kabbah to open a dialogue with the rebels as the only way to guarantee peace in Sierra Leone. "The Liberian government further calls on the United Nations to establish a commission of inquiry with immediate effect to establish the circumstances leading to the involvement of foreign nationals, including Liberians, in the Sierra Leone civil war," it added. The statement said the accusations had created a crisis of confidence, compromising its participation in the ECOWAS Committee of Five. "As a result of the situation, Liberia may be prepared to recluse (sic.) itself from the process until such a time when the crisis of confidence is resolved," it said.

Liberian President Charles Taylor repeated his call Tuesday for the Sierra Leone government to negotiate with the rebels rather than to try to defeat them militarily. "I call on the leadership in Sierra Leone to show real statesmanship by engaging in dialogue with the joint RUF and ousted junta rebels rather than using force," Taylor said on his private radio station. "We believe this is the only way to achieve genuine peace in Sierra Leone...We realize that if there is no peace in Sierra Leone, there is no peace in Liberia."

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said Tuesday that escalating hostilities could jeopardise relief programmes in the provinces. "Those most likely to be affected by the lack of food are displaced persons who were living in camps and urban areas in the north and the east," Sierra Leone's WFP representative Patrick Buckley said in a statement. He said food shipments to Makeni and other areas had been halted, affecting close to 24,000 people. Food stocks in the town are now depleted. At estimated 80,000 Sierra Leoneans have been displaced by the recent upsurge in fighting. The WFP expressed particular concern about the fate of some 8,000 civilians who fled Koidu during a rebel attack two weeks ago. "We are gravely concerned about the situation of people fleeing the Kono region. We estimate that a total of 40,000 displaced persons are either hiding in the bush in the region or moving towards other towns spared by the fighting," Buckley said. "WFP and its food aid partners have sufficient food stocks for all the country in Freetown but with the increased rebel activity, trucking companies face serious security constraints to deliver our food to vulnerable people in the interior.'' On Monday, the WFP sent 90 metric tons of food to Bo and Kenema. As of late Tuesday, the food had not arrived.

United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo has said that the Sierra Leone government may have no choice but to negotiate with "those who have grievances" sooner rather than later. The situation on the ground is getting worse," he said. "The government has to take this seriously. It can't stand back and wait for things to get better."

A boat carrying African refugees has been rescued by a Libyan ferry boat in the Mediterranean near Malta, Honourary Sierra Leone Consul in Malta J. A. Dougall said on Tuesday. The refugees are thought to come from Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Algeria, although their identities have not yet been confirmed. "All of these are in a bad shape and are all receiving medical attention," Dougall said. Police authorities postponed interviewing of the refugees as they were suffering from exhaustion, Dougall added.

Military officials say they have detained 25 suspected rebels, along with eight Ukrainians suspected of being mercenaries. The Ukrainians are being questioned, they added. According to the Agence France-Presse,  SLBS (state radio) had announced that eight Ukrainians who entered the country last week should report to the police.

28 December: AFRC/RUF rebels reportedly seized control of Makeni from retreating ECOMOG troops on Monday, but ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi, attending the ECOWAS Committee of Five foreign ministers conference in Abidjan, refused to concede that the town had fallen to the rebels, describing it instead as a "no-man's land." "Our troops have pulled back from Makeni," he said. "We had to make a tactical withdrawal in order not to stretch our communication lines." Shelpidi said the Kamajor militia would defend the town against the rebels. Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Dr. Sama Banya, declined to say who controlled the town but confirmed that all of Makeni's residents had fled. He said Nigeria had sent two battalions to Freetown on Sunday night, reportedly some 600 additional troops, to reinforce ECOMOG, bringing the force's estimated strength in Sierra Leone to about 12,000.

RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie claimed Friday to have captured Waterloo and Benguema, 20 and 30 miles from Freetown, respectively. ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi denied the rebel claim, saying ECOMOG troops were "in control of the area." In an interview on Sunday, Bockarie said the rebels "were no longer seeking dialogue," adding it was "too late now."

No new initiatives emerged from a one-day emergency meeting of the ECOWAS Committee of Five foreign ministers on Sierra Leone in Abidjan on Monday, but delegates issued a communiqué following the conference demanding that AFRC/RUF rebels cease fighting, and condemning those who were providing them support. The communiqué called on the rebels "to cease fighting immediately, to lay down their arms and to recognize the government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah as the legitimate government of Sierra Leone," and "strongly condemned the activities of the countries which are providing support to the rebels." Sierra Leone's Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Dr. Sama Banya, and ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi "implicated Liberia in providing military support to the rebels," the communiqué said. Shelpidi, in an interview, said arms for the rebels "are coming from Liberia and through Liberia," and accused Liberia of supporting the rebel insurgency. "I maintain my position that Liberia is aiding the rebels," he said. "We have a destabilising situation in the sub-region, and if it's allowed to continue, it's going to be very, very serious. It won't end in Sierra Leone, it's going to spill over and affect every country in the sub-region," Shelpidi said. Delegates said Britain, Nigeria, and the United States also accused Liberia of aiding the rebels in their current offensive. "There is a growing body of evidence in support of Liberia's involvement in Sierra Leone," the Director of the U.S. State Department Office of West African Affairs and Special Envoy to Liberia, Howard Jeter, was quoted as saying. Liberian Foreign Minister Monie Captan countered by demanding proof of his government's involvement, and called for an international investigation. "I don't deny that there are Liberians in Sierra Leone, but the Liberian government is not involved," he told reporters. ECOWAS General Secretary Lansana Kouyate called for additional troops for ECOMOG, and deplored the "lack of military backup" for the force despite the "good will" of ECOWAS countries. Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Kokou Koffigoh, who chaired the talks, called on Western countries to provide logistical equipment while maintaining the key to peace in Sierra Leone was national reconciliation. "We must insist on the necessity to organize a true dialogue -- a frank and sincere dialogue between Sierra Leone's feuding brothers," Koffigoh said. "But dialogue demands, above all, a halt in fighting," he added, urging delegates to "work together to convince belligerents to agree to a ceasefire." Koffigoh said the United Nations and the Netherlands had "given the green light" to finance 400 troops from Mali and 100 from Gambia.

The U.S. Department of State, in a strongly-worded statement issued by Acting Spokesman M. Lee McClenny on Monday, said the United States "condemns in the strongest terms the brutal RUF insurgency" in Sierra Leone. "The United States Government stands firmly with the democratically elected government of President Kabbah," the statement said. "We can not countenance any renewed attempt to overthrow the Kabbah government by force. Nor will the people of Sierra Leone accept another coup d’etat as was demonstrated yesterday in Freetown by their march in support of the legitimate government." In a reference to allegations of Liberian support for rebels fighting in Sierra Leone, the statement said the United States Government "is especially concerned about external regional support for the RUF insurgency. We continue to urge the Government of Liberia to take all necessary measures to stop support for RUF activities emanating from its territory."

Liberian officials say they arrested eight Sierra Leoneans inside Liberia over the weekend, accusing them of being members of the Kamajor militia. According to a press report in Monrovia, two were arrested at Bo Waterside, while the remaining six were taken into custody at Dambala. Military sources at Bo Waterside said heavily armed Kamajor fighters had crossed the Mano River at Mowahn in the Wednesday evening in search of food. The sources, quoting villagers, said the Kamajors stole twelve bags of seed rice and a large quantity of palm oil before fleeing. Kamajors in canoes were reportedly seen near the abandoned mining town of Kongo, on the Liberian side of the border. There has been no direct confrontation between the Kamajor militiamen and Liberian troops, but Liberia has stepped up patrols along the border.

ECOMOG Press Secretary Malam Buhari Ali, in a statement issued in Abuja, Nigeria on Monday, claimed rebel faction leader and former AFRC Chief Secretary Solomon "SAJ" Musa was killed December 24 during an an attack on Benguema Military Training Centre. There has been no independent confirmation of the claim.

27 December: ECOMOG troops fought AFRC/RUF rebels on Sunday for control of Makeni, an ECOMOG official said in Freetown. He said about 50 rebels were killed Saturday when Nigerian Alpha jet fighters attached to the ECOMOG force bombed rebel positions in the town. The official said he expected the planes to return to take action against take action against the rebels, who had regrouped at Makeni Teachers College. The college, which is on the outskirts of the city, is close to ECOMOG's main military base in northern Sierra Leone. "Most of the civilians in Makeni and the surrounding area have fled so we are only left face to face with the rebels," the official said. Communications links to Makeni have been cut, and no independent assessment of the situation in Makeni could be made, Reuters reported. Makeni residents who reached Freetown on Saturday confirmed that ECOMOG was in control, although some reported that the rebels were in parts of the town or that ECOMOG was defending the military barracks. RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie also made claims that his fighters had captured the town, saying Saturday that the rebels had killed 60 ECOMOG soldiers and dragged their bodies through the streets "as an example to everyone." Bockarie, who has threatened an AFRC/RUF rebel assault on Freetown, called on President Kabbah to resign. "Failure of Kabbah to resign, and we will start bombarding Freetown and will not stop until victory is won," Bockarie told the Associated Press.

Hundreds of people have reached Freetown, saying they were forced to flee rebel attacks between Thursday and Saturday on the fishing village of Tombo, just south of the capital.

A delegation headed by Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Dr. Sama Banya arrived in Abidjan, Ivory Coast on Saturday night for a meeting of the ECOWAS Committee of Five on Sierra Leone. In Freetown, Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer said the Sierra Leoneans will plead for additional troops to reinforce ECOMOG. A "senior Western diplomat" told Reuters that the Sierra Leone government may come under increased pressure to negotiate with the rebels. "There is a growing fear in the region that a new civilian government taking over in Nigeria in May next year may not want to shoulder the burden of peacekeeping in Sierra Leone," the diplomat said. "The Sierra Leone government may need to look at what happened in Mozambique in 1992. The government there concluded a successful accord with Renamo rebels, and Renamo were just as vicious as the Sierra Leone rebels." Committee members include the foreign ministers of Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, and Liberia. The foreign ministers of Burkina Faso and Togo will also attend, as their countries hold the presidencies of ECOWAS and the OAU, respectively. The United States is sending its Director of the State Department Office of West African Affairs and Special Envoy to Liberia Howard Jeter, and Ambassador to Sierra Leone Joseph Melrose. Britain will be represented by its High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Peter Penfold. ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi will also be present.

The Sierra Leone government has condemned the mob killing of two suspected rebel spies during a demonstration in Freetown on Saturday. "Mob justice cannot be a solution to our problems as it could lead to the loss of innocent lives," a government statement broadcast over SLBS (state radio) said. "While government understands the cause of anger among the majority of Sierra Leoneans, it will not condone people taking the law into their own hands. All cases of rebels and suspected rebels must be referred to ECOMOG or the law enforcement bodies." According to news accounts, the two men were severely beaten before some in the crowd put petrol-filled tires around their necks and set them on fire. The charred bodies were taken away by police, who did not interfere with the killings.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has condemned the upsurge in fighting in Sierra Leone and attempts by ARC/RUF rebels to overthrow the country's civilian government. "The Secretary-General is extremely concerned by the latest news of rebel armed activities in Sierra Leone," Annan's spokesman said in a statement issued in New York. "He condemns the refusal of the RUF and junta remnants to lay down their arms, as well as their continuing military actions...He wishes to take this opportunity to emphasise the unacceptability of attempting to overthrow duly-elected governments by force. He appeals to the rebels to lay down their arms at once and to enter the peace process without preconditions."

The government, in a radio broadcast, has condemned the evacuation of British nationals from Sierra Leone, saying it played into rebel plans to spread panic.

ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi has called on the international community to "rally round and support Sierra Leone, which is trying to restore democracy."

26 December: ECOMOG troops have turned back a rebel attack on Makeni, an ECOMOG spokesman said on Saturday. "The rebels can never take Makeni from us, even though they are heavily armed and in quite large numbers,'' he added. AFRC/RUF rebels and ECOMOG had battled for control of of the town since Thursday. A Catholic priest who was in Makeni on Friday said most residents had fled, and that rebels controlled parts of the town. A Ministry of Defence spokesman quoted by Reuters acknowledged that the rebels had captured part of Makeni. Sources in radio contact with the area earlier on Saturday that the fighting was continuing.

Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer said Saturday that Freetown was calm, and maintained that the security situation in Sierra Leone was firmly under the control of ECOMOG and other security forces. "As far as Government is concerned, we remain faithful to the position adopted by the United Nations Security Council with respect to the conflict in Sierra Leone, which is to simultaneously pursue the military option and dialogue," he said in a press release. Spencer said that despite media reports to the contrary, "Makeni town is in the hands of ECOMOG, although there are continuing rebel attacks on the township. With regard to Kono, no military occupation has been established in the area by the rebels. Rather, the area was invaded by marauding gangs of illegal miners, among whom are rebels. This situation is being addressed by the security forces." Spencer said that of the twelve districts in Sierra Leone, the rebels were known to operate in parts of only three. "It is also important to stress here that the rebels are currently under severe pressure in the Eastern part of the country where they have their main base," he said. "All other parts of the country are calm and secure."

British Foreign Office Minister of State for Africa Tony Lloyd reiterated Saturday Britain's support for Sierra Leone's civilian government. He made the statement as British nationals evacuated from Freetown arrived in London. "But our strong support for the democratically-elected government of President Kabbah remains undiminished," Lloyd said. "We continue to lead international support for the legitimate government in Sierra Leone, and we are in close touch with our partners in the Security Council and elsewhere on how to take things forward."

Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer, in a BBC interview on Saturday, called "absolutely false" rebel claims to have captured Makeni. "It is simply propaganda that they are trying to mount," he said. "They have been trying to take control of Makeni. They have been attacking the place for the past three days. They have not succeeded. They have not taken control of Makeni. Indeed, there has been fighting going on around Makeni, not right inside the town. They have been trying to get into the town and up to this point that I am talking to you they have not succeeded...ECOMOG hasn't gone on an offensive in that area. They are simply holding defensive positions, ECOMOG and the Civil Defence Forces in that area, and very soon they will be thrown out of the area completely." Spencer rejected a suggestion that the civilian government might be overthrown a second time by the rebels. "That is absolutely impossible. What we are going to see in the new year is the total elimination of rebel activity in this country. That I assure you. Let them wait and see. Nobody is going to run away anywhere. Even the women are saying they are going to stand up. Nobody is running away. For the Kabbah government to be removed is absolutely impossible, totally out of the question. Anybody who thinks that is dreaming. "

The ECOWAS Committee of Five foreign ministers charged with finding ways to end the Sierra Leone conflict will convene in Ivory Coast on Monday, an Ivorian official was quoted as saying on Saturday.

Thousands of demonstrators turned out in Freetown Saturday to show support for President Kabbah and to denounce rebel attacks and Liberian President Charles Taylor, whom they accuse of backing the rebels. The demonstration, called by the Citizens' Security Movement, ended outside the law courts in the center of the capital. Witnesses said youths caught and burned to death two suspected rebels during the rally.

25 December: ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said Friday he could see no reason for the evacuation of foreign nationals from Sierra Leone. He said there had been no significant rebel activity around the city since the rebel raid on Waterloo on Tuesday. "I heard foreign diplomats reported 2,000 rebels around Waterloo and when I asked my commanders on the ground they laughed. There are just local people salvaging their belongings," Shelpidi said. "I cannot speak for foreign governments and if they want their citizens out then very well, but my personal view is that the international community should not abandon Sierra Leone at this crucial time." Shelpidi said AFRC/RUF rebels had attacked near Makeni on Friday. Makeni was under ECOMOG control, he said, but outlying villages were in rebel hands. "ECOMOG cannot be in every settlement everywhere. We don't have the manpower so sometimes there are attacks when these rebels raid villages for food, then we go there as soon as we can and they run away," he said. "We have appealed for the public to cooperate and mostly they are giving us very good cooperation but sometimes they connive with the rebels and give them food and shelter." Shelpidi also said ECOMOG had killed 14 rebels Wednesday in a clash near the Benguema training barracks.

Two British Royal Air Force planes found only one person waiting to be evacuated when they returned to Lungi International Airport on Friday. One businessman who was evacuated on Thursday explained that the lack of interest was probably due to an improving security situation in Freetown. "There is tension in Freetown and the embassy brought in planes to take us out. We did so but I don't think the rebels can take Freetown," he said. Another evacuee said there had been panic in Freetown following rebel attacks on Tuesday, but added: "I don't think the evacuation was necessary." Britain had sent its two aircraft back to Freetown on Friday to evacuate more British and other foreign nationals in the wake of recent rebel activity near the capital. "Two Royal Air Force Hercules aircraft went back to the airport in Freetown to pick up any stragglers," a Foreign Office spokesman said. "They brought out around 80 people last night. The majority were Britons, although there were a fair smattering of European nationals. He said that while the measure was precautionary, Britain was strongly advising its nationals in Sierra Leone to take advantage of this offer to leave. "The situation is very volatile," he said. "I don't say they would be targeted just because they were British, but the rebels have a pretty awful history of atrocity. We don't want any of our nationals put at risk." British High Commissioner Peter Penfold and one staff member would remain in Freetown for now, he said, but they may also have to leave. He added that Britain was still "strongly supporting" the Sierra Leone government. "We are very anxious to make it clear that the fact that we have evacuated as a precautionary measure doesn't diminish our very strong support for President Kabbah's democratically elected government," he said.

RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie threatened on Friday to attack Freetown on New Year's Day, then moved up the deadline claiming the arrival of ECOMOG reinforcements,   unless the government agreed to negotiate with the rebels. "If Kabbah does not agree to respond to our request to open dialogue, then in 48 to 72 hours we will enter Freetown," Bockarie told the Agence France-Presse (AFP). "We are going to march into Freetown on New Year's Day unless the government agrees to our terms," Bockarie said in a separate Reuters interview. "We have the will and the way." Bockarie claimed that AFRC/RUF rebels had captured Makeni and were battling for Kenema. He also claimed to have captured Waterloo, about 20 miles from southeast of Freetown, and nearby Benguema, where he said rebel forces had seized the military training barracks.  There has been no independent confirmation of his claims.

24 December: Kamajor militiamen arrived in Freetown Thursday to reinforce ECOMOG troops defending the capital. Reuters reporter Christo Johnson put the number of Kamajors at around 2,000, while BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay reported the arrival of "about 5,000 dare-devil Kamajors." According to Ojukutu-Macaulay, the militiamen have been deployed "across Freetown along the peninsula from Waterloo and right across the west, the entire Western Area." The militia reinforces an estimated 5,000 ECOMOG troops deployed around the capital, according to figures provided by the United Nations Military Observer Force (UNOMSIL). UNOMSIL chief, General Subashi Joshi, told aid workers on Wednesday that more than 1,000 additional ECOMOG troops had been flown in from Liberia to increase security. ECOMOG officials have not confirmed the reinforcements nor provided information on how many troops it has deployed within and outside of the capital.

ECOMOG reopened the main highway to the interior, closed since rebel attacks on Tuesday. An ECOMOG spokesman said vehicles can now travel without fear, as all highways leading to the provincial capitals are under air and ground military surveillance.

Hundreds of residents returned to Waterloo in trucks and busses Thursday after ECOMOG troops had cleared the area of rebel fighters. One resident told the Agence France-Presse that: "Over 40 houses were burnt down, including one of our popular nightclubs after it was heavily looted." ECOMOG troops in Waterloo staged a military parade through the town on Wednesday evening. The procession, which lasted for several hours and continued on toward Freetown, was led by ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi. Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe, along with other top officials, also took part.

The United States has suspended operations at its embassy in Freetown and ordered the departure of all U.S. personnel in view of the deteriorating security situation in the country. A travel advisory issued by the U.S. Department of State on Thursday warned that "travel within Sierra Leone should be considered extremely hazardous due to possible attacks by deposed military and rebel forces." The advisory said that "U.S. citizens in Sierra Leone should review their own personal security situations and are urged to depart the country."

Britain has sent to Royal Air Force planes to Sierra Leone to evacuate British citizens as AFRC/RUF forces neared Freetown. "This is a precautionary measure, because of the deteriorating security situation," a Foreign Office spokesman said on Thursday. The first of two Hercules aircraft landed at Lungi, with a second to arrive shortly, a Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said. She added that about 300 British nationals were expected to depart as soon as possible amid expectations that Lungi International Airport could close within hours. "We do not know if we will be able land another plane after these," she said. Consular staff were arranging helicopters to fly Britons from Freetown to Lungi. The Foreign Office spokesman said the first plane was due to leave Freetown shortly for Dakar, Senegal carrying about 150 persons, mostly British nationals but also with other Europeans including nine Italian priests. "This is a precautionary measure, and does not mean a lack of support for the democratically elected government of Sierra Leone," he stressed.

A United Nations spokesman spokesman said Thursday that the U.N. is evacuating about one third of its 116-members staff from Sierra Leone. He said about 40 employees, mainly civilians, were being sent to Guinea while others in outlying areas were being brought to Freetown.

Minister of Information, Communications, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer has accused senior Liberian officials of being actively involved in supporting AFRC/RUF rebels, the BBC reported on Thursday. In an interview with the BBC's Focus on Africa programme, Liberian Deputy Information Minister Milton Teahjay "categorically" denied that Liberia was involved in the fighting. "We deny categorically the presence of Liberian troops in Sierra Leone, he said. He acknowledged that individual Liberians may have entered Sierra Leone to take part in the fighting "but no member of the Armed Forces of Liberia, or any of the paramilitary units in Liberia, will ever, and have ever, gone into Sierra Leone to fight war for or on behalf of any of the factions. Our interest is to resolve the conflict diplomatically." Teahjay repeated Liberia's call for the Sierra Leone government to negotiate with the rebels. "I think the leaders of Sierra Leone have to begin to approach this issue with pragmatism," he said. "The issue of Foday Sankoh is an important factor that we have to address in a collective way. What that means is the man who is a part of the problem must be given an opportunity to be part of the solution. And this is what we’ve personally said. President Kabbah and President Taylor have been talking on this very issue. And we believe that that and many other approaches from the Liberia experience could be exploited to be utilised in the process of bringing peace to Sierra Leone." Teahjay rejected accusations that the Liberian government involved in the Sierra Leone conflict. "President Taylor has won the presidency here, he won the elections here. He has no interest in ensuring that conflict continues in Freetown, or in Sierra Leone for that matter. What does that benefit him? He does not want to be president of Freetown or Sierra Leone. He wants to be president of Liberia, and he’s president of Liberia already."

Liberia sent additional troops to the Sierra Leone border Wednesday following new charges by the government that fighters from former Liberian militia groups planned to infiltrate Liberia from Sierra Leone. The measure was intended to "prevent a spill-over of escalated military operations in Sierra Leone," according to an official statement. Liberian President Charles Taylor said he had intelligence reports that elements of the disbanded ULIMO militia "have been amassing fighters to infiltrate them into Liberia." Deputy Information Minister Milton Teahjay, in a BBC interview on Thursday, called the move "normal in the conduct of of domestic policy and international policy." He said Liberia didn't want to be a party to the conflict in Sierra Leone. We don’t want anybody fighting to reach Sierra Leone then coming back into Liberia and regrouping and going back in there," he said. "If there is a conflict in a neighbouring country, it is incumbent on the country nearby to make sure that their borders are not used for hit-and-run tactics on the other side of the border."

ECOMOG has confirmed the presence of white mercenaries in last week's AFRC/RUF rebel attack on Koidu. Their nationality was unknown.

RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie said Thursday his forces would attack Freetown "after the New Year" if the government would not agree to negotiate. "Our men are standing by to take the city. We are ready to attack at any moment," Bockarie said, speaking by satellite telephone from "somewhere in the northwestern jungle." He said his force numbered "30,000 strong seasoned fighters" across the country, some of them already in the capital. "We have a strong enough force to take ECOMOG out of Freetown," he warned. Bockarie said his fighters would launch the attack "after the holidays...after the New Year", but added "We are asking for peace. We are not coming for revenge or to kill civilians. We want to enter into dialogue." He rejected President Kabbah's demand that the rebels lay down their arms as a pre-condition to negotiations, and called on Burkina Faso President and OAU Chairman Blaise Compaore to mediate. Bockarie demanded the "immediate and unconditional" release of RUF leader Foday Sankoh, currently appealing his conviction and death sentence on treason charges, saying the rebels would give up their arms only if Sankoh made the request, on the condition that Sankoh were "free, on neutral territory, and not under duress."

Sierra Leonean refugees living in and around Monrovia complained Thursday that they had been subject to arbitrary arrest, detention, and harassment by Liberian security forces on "unjustified" charges of illegal residence since Sunday, when Liberia closed its border with Sierra Leone. A refugee spokesman at Samuka Town Refugee Camp said nine refugees, including himself, had been arrested at dawn on Monday. He said they were detained at police headquarters for two days without food or water and that their personal effects, including money and watches, were taken from them. He said many of the 5,000 refugees at the camp were frightened of police who conduct early morning visits to the camp, make threats, and appropriate their belongings. Police also arrested 21 Sierra Leoneans Monday in the Monrovia suburb of Fiamah, claiming they were "dissidents." A police officer said the 21 were released "after it was proven that they were refugees seeking safety in the city." He added that the raids were "part of the security operation for the Christmas season." The First Secretary at the Sierra Leone Embassy in Monrovia, James Sarwee, said the embassy was aware of the situation but could not comment publicly because the new ambassador had not yet presented his credentials to President Charles Taylor. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees acknowledged receiving complaints from the Sierra Leonean refugees, and said they had been forwarded to the Liberia Refugee, Repatriation and Resettlement Commission.

AFRC/RUF rebels came within striking distance of Freetown before being repelled by ECOMOG troops, the BBC reported on Thursday. It added that ECOMOG re-established its positions in Waterloo on Wednesday. "A number of young people were kidnapped by the rebels and several houses in Waterloo burned down in the fighting," the report said, adding that the capital remained tense. Freetown was reported calm on Thursday morning.

51 persons rescued from the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Malta on December 6 and "believed to be Sierra Leoneans" were not, according to the Honourary Consul For Sierra Leone in Malta, J. A. Dougall. "I have interviewed all the 51 survivors of the rescue at sea drama which happened on the 6th instant during the three days that followed," Dougall said in a statement. "I have circulated to the press that it was ascertained that none of these people do as of fact come from Sierra Leone. The international press were misinformed about this whole issue, and it has become frequent that illegal immigrants do pretend to be allowed in foreign countries if they claim to be coming from Sierra Leone because of the current problems facing the country."

23 December: ECOMOG has increased its troop strength in Freetown in the face of a renewed rebel threat on the capital. "More than 1,000 troops were flown in yesterday," an ECOMOG officer said on Wednesday. The Nigerian reinforcements were said to have arrived at Lungi International Airport at dawn on Wednesday. Overnight, the sound of artillery and small arms fire could be heard around the capital. According to Reuters, many shops and businesses did not open on Wednesday. Authorities in Freetown said Tuesday's attack on Waterloo had killed one civilian and wounded several others. ECOMOG said the city had now been cleared of all "rebel elements." Liberian Star Radio put the death toll from the Waterloo attack at 30 people killed and several others wounded. 15 houses were burned down, the report said, quoting eyewitnesses.

Minister of Information, Communications, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer, in a broadcast over Radio Democracy, said a bombardment heard in Freetown early Wednesday morning was a pre-emptive strike. Spencer said ECOMOG had received information that the rebels were descending from Mount Aureol and were planning to enter Freetown via Fourah Bay College. "The area was then hit with maximum force to ensure that if the reports were true, the enemy would be destroyed," Spencer said, adding that after several hours of bombardment, "It turned out that nobody was there." Spencer advised people not panic or to leave their homes at the sound of gunfire, because such pre-emptive attacks were "likely to occur from time to time as ECOMOG is committed and concerned that nothing should go wrong particularly inthe city. So if such information is received, ECOMOG will take decisive action."

United Nations Military Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) chief, General Subashi Joshi, reassured U.N. staff Tuesday that there was no cause for panic. He said the "situation would be under reasonable control within a couple of days," adding, "Freetown is well protected."

President Kabbah appealed for calm on SLBS (state radio) on Tuesday night. He said ECOMOG had foiled a rebel plan to attack Freetown from three fronts around December 19. Kabbah said ECOMOG had repelled the rebels "and is now chasing them into the bush." He said the rebels were trying to create panic in the civilian population in an attempt to pressure the government negotiate, but said that he and his government would not allow themselves to be forced into such a deal. Kabbah said that Liberian President Charles Taylor had requested the release of RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh and that the government "give him a car and a house." Kabbah said he would be violating the law if he yielded to the demand, and that the law must take its course. "It would be totally irresponsible for me to compensate someone out of public funds for destroying our country and for having caused so much unhappiness and destruction of lives and property since 1991," he said.

BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana said the humanitarian crisis caused by the rebel attack on Waterloo "very serious" because the east end of Freetown "is now being stormed by displaced people" from Waterloo and surrounding towns. He said that many residents were convinced that those who carried out the attack against the town were "mainly surrendered soldiers of the defunct Sierra Leonean Army."

BBC correspondent Sylvester Rogers reported Wednesday that AFRC/RUF rebels had "skirmished" with ECOMOG troops eleven miles from Makeni on Tuesday, and that there had been rebel attacks near Magburaka. "I have been speaking here to ECOMOG. They themselves told me there were rebel skirmishes some eleven miles off Makeni, but they dealt with that, and that everything was under control," Rogers said by telephone from Makeni. He said ECOMOG had assured residents that it was doing everything in its power to provide protection, "but the people don't seem to believe that because they are still pulling out as I speak to you now." Rogers said the sound of fighting could be heard from the city. "It is not too far away. I've been hearing bombardments myself. In fact, as soon as I finish speaking to you, I will be leaving also because everybody is pulling out."

70 AFRC/RUF rebels captured at Sumbuya have been put on display at ECOMOG headquarters at Wilberforce Military Barracks, BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay reported on Wednesday. He described the rebel fighters as "looking horrible, haggard, hungry, and unkempt."

The United Nations Security Council expressed concern Wednesday about an upsurge in rebel attacks and in atrocities against civilians. According to a statement read by current Council President Ambassador Jasim Mohammed Buallay of Bahrain, members "expressed their concern at the intensified attacks launched by rebel forces, and the damages caused by those attacks as well as the atrocities perpetrated on civilians." The Council said it was imperative that the rebels put an end to their atrocities, and  "reaffirmed their support for the government of President Kabbah and continue to commend the role" of the ECOMOG force. The Council also condemned foreign involvement in Sierra Leone's civil conflict and expressed "serious concern at the large number of armaments flowing into the hands of the rebels in an organized manner." The statement called on all countries to abide by a Security Council arms embargo against the rebels and against Liberia, thought to be the source of many of the weapons. The Security Council urged the international community to provide resources for troop reinforcements and logistical support for ECOMOG. Council members urged President Kabbah and Liberian President Charles Taylor to "take up a dialogue on how to jointly resolve differences."

The British government updated its travel advisory on Sierra Leone Wednesday, warning against travel to the country in view of the deteriorating security situation. "British nationals in Sierra Leone are advised to leave immediately," the advisory said. A Foreign Office spokesman said the warning was a "precautionary measure" in response to the worsening security situation, particularly in the area around Freetown. He said Britain's small diplomatic staff in Freetown would remain in place in case the estimated 200 British nationals there had to leave quickly. "Contingency plans are being put in place to evacuate British citizens from Freetown should that become necessary," the spokesman said.

A report of the arrest of freelance journalist Kabba Kargbo could not be confirmed, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Wednesday. The report first appeared in the Concord Times newspaper, which said Kargbo was picked up by CID officers following an interview with the BBC on the attack on Waterloo. The report was subsequently distributed as an alert by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Guma Valley Water Project has dismissed as "wholly untrue" a December 2 report which it attributed to Radio Deutsche Welle (German radio) that the World Bank had suspended disbursement of a $36 million loan to the company. The loan, approved in 1996, was aimed at helping the company increase water supplies in Freetown. Reuters, which also carried the story, quoted a World Bank official as saying the government had failed to install water meters to ensure that the loan would be repaid by money generated by the water sales. The Reuters report also quoted "company officials" as saying that only $7 million of the loan had been disbursed so far, and that a fifth of the project had been completed. "This report is wholly untrue. The Universal Metering Project is ongoing as approved by the Government of Sierra Leone," the Company said in a government news briefing issued on Wednesday.

Liberian President Charles Taylor said Tuesday he had closed his country's border with Sierra Leone because rebel fighters of the former ULIMO faction were preparing to enter Liberia. He said the spread of the civil war in Sierra Leone was another reason why the border was closed. Taylor said that Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea and exchanged assurances that they would not allow dissidents to use their territory to launch attacks into neighbouring countries. However, Taylor warned that Liberia is capable of defending itself against aggression.

Sierra Leone's civil conflict has produced the highest number of refugees in Africa, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Of the 3.5 million refugees on the continent, 440,000 are Sierra Leoneans. (The number does not include those internally displaced within Sierra Leone.) Somalia ranked second with 419,000 and Sudan was third with 320,000.

22 December: AFRC/RUF rebels attacked Waterloo Tuesday, causing thousands to flee toward Freetown and reportedly advancing as far as Wellington before being turned back by ECOMOG troops. Government and ECOMOG officials instituted a press blackout and banned unauthorised news dispatches Tuesday, but a number of refugees reported the rebels burned houses and randomly killed civilians at Wellington. ECOMOG soldiers manning checkpoints said the rebels had been turned back from Wellington early Tuesday, but that the situation remained unstable. The Associated Press cited unconfirmed reports of heavy fighting in towns closer to the capital. A "forest guard in Waterloo District", Abubakar Sesay, told the BBC that the rebels had been brought into Lumpa, an extension of Waterloo, by sympathisers, who kept them in their homes. "So at about 3:00 a.m. these rebels just opened fire," he said. "There was a lot of shooting, but their number was about 50. And not all of them were armed. There was a lot of shooting in the air." Sesay said the ECOMOG troops stationed at Waterloo withdrew to a nearby garrison and returned with armored personnel carriers. "Waterloo came under the control of ECOMOG at 5:00 a.m. this morning, and at this time I’m talking they’re in control of Waterloo," he added.  ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi, in a written statement read over SLBS (state radio) late Tuesday, appealed to residents to remain calm. "I wish to assure you that ECOMOG is in control of the situation and is presently engaged in seeking out and destroying the rebels," Shelpidi said. "Do not panic and abandon your homes at the sound of gunfire...You need to be aware that the rebels are using your fear to achieve their aims." He warned refugees to beware of "rebels who may have mingled among you, pretending to be displaced people." Civilians attempting to leave Freetown were turned back by ECOMOG troops, while others attempting trying to reach the capital were searched before being allowed to enter.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported Tuesday that Kabba Kargbo, a freelance journalist with the independent Pathfinder newspaper, was arrested in Freetown Tuesday afternoon by Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officers and transported to CID headquarters. The arrest came shortly after Kargbo told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme that he had witnessed Saturday's attack on Waterloo, and said that the rebels appeared to be militarily superior to ECOMOG.

RUF commander Sam "Maskita" Bockarie told the BBC Tuesday that his forces captured Koidu last weekend following a 48 hour battle with ECOMOG and Civil Defence Forces troops. "I can tell you we destroyed them a whole lot. It is just that we cannot talk," Bockarie said by satellite telephone. "Now today, my men reported that they have taken Masori with two armed tanks from them again and which have gone up to five now." He denied that the RUF had stepped up its military campaign to coincide with the Christmas season. "We decided to intensify our military campaign simply because the Tejan Kabbah-led government has denied the people peace. We now want to force him to adhere to peace. As we know, dialogue is only the solution to the present problem in Sierra Leone. Dialogue is the only solution to this problem. We know that and we know military option cannot solve the problem. The Nigerians are not worth enough to get us out of Sierra Leone as we are citizens of this land and we are fighting a just cause and we do not believe if there is any reason for Tejan Kabbah to kill everybody in Sierra Leone who is fighting for his or her right." Bockarie denied that the RUF was receiving any help from outside the country. "The RUF has been existing ever since without any outside support," he said. "If we had been getting support from abroad, then there is no need for them (the civilian government) to be in Freetown now." Bockarie maintained that the RUF had the capability to take Freetown. "That is our belief. Freetown is our goal and that is our target," he said. He said that the RUF was seeking dialogue and the release of their leader, Corporal Foday Sankoh, who is currently appealing a treason conviction and death sentence in Freetown. "We want dialogue and that Kabbah should know that Sankoh is our sole and legitimate leader of the RUF," he said. "We stand strong against the idea of imprisoning and molesting our leader. We can do anything if Kabbah does not release our leader. He is going to face the same of what he is doing now. "

21 December: ECOMOG troops launched an artillery attack on rebel positions at Sumbuya and Songo, 30 to 40 miles east of Freetown, ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jimoh Okunlola said on Monday. The sound of mortars and machine gun fire could be heard intermittently from the outskirts of Freetown throughout Sunday night.

The latest fighting prompted missionary aid workers from the Adventist Development and Relief Agency to abandon a hospital and rehabilitation camp for for thousands displaced persons, including amputees, at Waterloo, about 20 miles from Freetown. A senior official said that about 8,000 residents had fled the camp. He said the newly equipped and refurbished hospital had been closed, and expressed concern for the building and equipment. As the bombardment continued, residents of villages from Waterloo to Songho travelled by foot to Debuho, about 16 miles from Freetown.  ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jimoh Okunlola said that the displacement of people was a major concern. He said that while there was no need to panic, because of people's past experience with the rebels, "We cannot tell them not to flee when there are heavy bombardments in their area." Witnesses described the refugees as travelling along the highway carrying their belongings on their heads and sleeping in ditches.

ECOMOG announced Sunday that the hours of curfew in Freetown have been extended from 10:00 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., while ECOMOG troops and the Civil Defence Forces militia set up checkpoints and patrolled beaches and suburbs of the capital amid rumours of rebel attacks on several major cities in the interior. Police said Monday that the security forces would be on "full alert" over the holidays. "The security apparatus in the western area is on full alert to prevent infiltration of any undesirable elements that may intend to cause havoc during the festive season," said senior police officer Samuel Kargbo. "We would like to assure all peaceful and law-abiding people to go about their normal business without fear."

More than 70 AFRC/RUF rebel fighters were killed in Kailahun District Saturday in clashes with the Kamajor militia, according to a source close to ECOMOG quoted by the Agence France-Presse (AFP). The Kamajors reportedly captured some six villages near the Liberian border and seized arms and ammunition, including rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 rifles. "The rest of the marauding bands of rebels fled to the main rebel base, 13 miles from Pendembu," the source said. "It was a successful operation ... We captured a number of administrative documents and civilians freed during the attack are now being screened."

Minister of Information, Communications, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer has denied that the security situation in Sierra Leone is deteriorating. "What has been happening is that the rebels have been dislodged from their bases as a result of an offensive by ECOMOG forces and the Civil Defense Forces (in the east and north)," Spencer told the BBC. "The one in Kono, the indications might be different in the sense that the reports that we have got indicate some outside involvement." He said there were indications of direct and indirect assistance "by some outside forces," but declined to name the source except to say that it was coming from "close by." Spencer said ECOMOG's declaring a state of red alert did not mean that Freetown was in danger of a rebel attack. "Rebels infiltrating Freetown doesn't mean that they are going to take over Freetown," he said. "That is absolutely impossible. Even the general public keeps saying, and people keep saying that 'oh there are rebels in Freetown.' That is probably true. There are rebel collaborators and so on, and the fact that ECOMOG is on red alert does not indicate that the security situation has deteriorated. It is simply a matter of ECOMOG not being prepared to take any chances, and they are on alert so that just in case anything happens they will be in a position to bring it under control very quickly. We do not expect that there will be an attack on Freetown, or even if there is an attack on Freetown it will be contained very quickly, and will not really affect the citizens. "

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies launched its 1999 appeal Monday for $157 million to aid 23.5 million people in 60 countries. In a statement, the Federation urged countries to invest in long-term development projects, arguing that these could more effectively alleviate the effects of disasters. "The international community has a choice," said Federation Under-Secretary-General Margareta Wahlstrom. "It can either simply respond to an emergency appeal and then criticize the lack of disaster preparedness when the next catastrophe strikes, or it can invest in development and observe a more effective use of its money in the long term." The Federation's largest programmes cover Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Liberia.

DiamondWorks, which holds diamond mining concessions in Kono District, said in a statement Monday it had been advised that AFRC/RUF rebels had overrun Koidu and the areas surrounding its Koidu mine. DiamondWorks, which has not operated the mine since May 1997 due to security concerns, said it had withdrawn its Lifeguard security personnel from the area as a precautionary move, but would send its security team back to the site as soon as conditions permit.

20 December: AFRC/RUF rebels captured Koidu on Saturday after ECOMOG and the Civil Defence Forces (CDF) militia withdrew their troops following heavy fighting, survivors and aid workers said on Sunday. ECOMOG officers in Freetown said they had withdrawn to avoid civilian casualties. "We had to pull out of the town to save civilian lives," one officer said. "We could have beaten the rebels back but it would have resulted in the loss of many civilian lives. We are giving the civilians a few days to leave the town, then we will strike and crush the rebels." Survivors who reached Freetown told of many bodies lying in the streets of Koidu, many of the apparently rebels. Fighting began on Wednesday when the rebels launched an attack in the area of Small Lebanon, but were beaten back by ECOMOG and the CDF. Aid workers said thousands of civilians had fled Koidu on foot to Makeni. "At least 10,000 people have reached Makeni since Friday. Thousands more are on the road and thousands more have gone to other towns in the north," one aid worker in Makeni said. Medical sources said dozens of wounded had been admitted to the Makeni Government Hospital.

The Liberian government has closed Liberia's border with Sierra Leone and ordered all army soldiers to report for duty immediately, Liberian President Charles Taylor announced late Saturday in a statement read on his radio station, KISS-FM. The statement said the Liberian government had been informed of plans by Liberians in exile, aided by neighbouring countries, to overthrow Liberia's elected government. Reuters cited a rumour circulating in Monrovia that an attack would be launched on December 24. Taylor's radio station said Friday the government had learned that 5,000 armed men were crossing into Liberia from Sierra Leone. A spokesman for President Taylor said the measure was being taken to prevent the violence in Sierra Leone from spilling over into Liberia, and warned that any individual involved in the unrest would be arrested. At a meeting in Abuja, Nigeria on July 2, President Kabbah and President Taylor "expressly reaffirmed their commitment not to permit their territories to be used for actions aimed at destabilizing the other." The two leaders renewed this pledge at their Monrovia summit on July 20 and at the Mano River Union summit on November 12. However, Sierra Leone has continued to accuse Liberia of aiding AFRC/RUF rebels, a charge which Taylor has continually denied.

19 December: Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman has distributed weapons to the Civil Defence Forces (CDF) militia in Kenema, the BBC reported on Saturday. The move followed the passing of enabling legislation on Tuesday and marks the first time the government has officially distributed arms to the militia. Norman said the move was to help deal with the remnants of fleeing junta forces, and that the CDF will now be allowed to accompany ECOMOG troops fighting AFRC/RUF rebels.

Energy and Works Minister Thaimu Bangura has disclosed that the National Power Authority (NPA) is owed some Le 5 billion. In a report on his ministry's progress, Bangura called on electricity consumers to pay their bills, saying that the NPA could not continue to supply electricity to the entire city if the bills were not honoured. Electrical service in Freetown has been intermittent since the restoration of the civilian government, because the city's generator has required frequent service. Last month, residents were warned that Freetown would be without power for four weeks. The outage should have ended this week, but most areas of the city are still without electricity at night. The NPA also faces losses from residents who acquire power illegally from electrical poles on the main streets of the capital, and from the fact that most consumers have refused to pay for electricity consumed during AFRC military rule.

More than half a million children under the age of five are to be vaccinated against poliomyelitis in Sierra Leone in a two-day program which began on Saturday. The vaccination programme is being conducted jointly by the Ministry of Health, the United Nations World Health Organisation, the United Nations Children's Fund, the U.S.-based Center for Disease Control, and Rotary International. Authorities had originally intended to vaccinate one million children, but rebel activity in the east and north of the country have prevented aid agencies and health workers from reaching the area. A second phase of the programme will be conducted in early February, when children will be given Vitamin A tablets to protect them against night blindness.

The government has changed the start of a curfew imposed last week from midnight to 10:00 p.m. No reason was given for the change, the BBC reported.

18 December: ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jimoh Okunlola said Friday that ECOMOG troops had repelled a rebel attack Wednesday on Small Lebanon in Kono District, not far from Koidu. Okunlola said the rebels "were quickly beaten back with losses on their side." Security officials said the rebel attack was their first attempt in months to recapture Koidu from ECOMOG troops. A witness quoted by the Agence France-Presse (AFP) said ECOMOG troops and Kamajor militiamen opened fire on the rebels, killing and wounding dozens. Civilians fled the area in panic, the witness added.

The trial of 22 persons charged last week with treason and other offences for allegedly collaborating with the AFRC military junta has been postponed until January 4, Liberian Star Radio reported on Friday.

Liberian President Charles Taylor said Thursday that the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) must be restructured without delay, Liberian Star Radio reported on Friday. Taylor said some "external forces" desired that Liberia remain weak militarily, but that despite the unwillingness of the United Nations Security Council to lift arms sanctions on Liberia, the country would not remain in a state of weakness. Taylor mentioned an "internet report" originating in Freetown on Thursday which, Taylor said, claimed that wounded RUF fighters were being treated in Monrovia hospitals. Taylor did not give the source of the report, but said this was why a national army should be assembled, to guard against "possible overzealousness."

The Chairman of the United Nations Security Council Sanctions Committee, Swedish U.N. Ambassador Hans Dahlgren, told the Security Council Friday that AFRC/RUF rebels have executed or mutilated more than 4,000 people in Sierra Leone since last April. "According to UNOMSIL [the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone], more than 4,000 people have been summarily executed or mutilated since April this year," Dahlgren said. "The acts of terror committed against civilians by the rebels in Sierra Leone are absolutely horrendous. It is hard to find words strong enough to describe these atrocities... They simply cut off parts of the body of their victims, with large knives...cutting off arms and legs, even noses and ears. They are burning alive men, women and children." Dahlgren said that while Freetown and other parts of the country had been liberated, the rebels were mobile and unpredictable. "Defeated in one part of the country, they have been able to remobilize and increase their terror in others," he said. "Right now, intense rebel activity in the western part of the country has raised tensions in the capital even further." He said it was clear that sanctions were not being fully implemented, and that arms and ammunition were reaching the rebels from outside the country. Dahlgren said that Liberian President Charles Taylor, whom he also met with, had repeated proposals for joint border controls with Sierra Leone -- a proposal he thought President Kabbah appeared to support. and "I also believe that it could be very useful if the United Nations...were to consider supporting such joint operations," Dahlgren said.

17 December: The United States government has temporarily closed its embassies in 40 African countries, including Sierra Leone, for precautionary security reasons in the wake of U.S. and British military action in Iraq. "In view of a number of recent threats to our embassies in Africa and the heightened threat environment following military action in Iraq, most but not all U.S. government facilities in sub-Saharan Africa were ordered to close for two days December 17 and 18," a U.S. official said. Of the 46 U.S. diplomatic posts in Africa, those in Congo, Somalia, and Guinea Bissau were already closed. The latest action leaves only three diplomatic missions open: those in South Africa, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso.

United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo, has complained to the Sierra Leone government about the continued detention of journalists in Sierra Leone, U.N. Spokesman Fred Eckhard said on Wednesday. BBC correspondents Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay and Sylvester Rogers were arrested on December 8 under emergency regulations for allegedly filing false reports and failing to clear their articles with a censor. Concord Times reported Sulaiman Momodu was arrested the following day after being interviewed by the BBC on the other arrests. Eckhard said the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) was offering the government help in interpreting the emergency power regulations "in a manner consistent with the right of freedom of expression"

16 December: ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jimoh Okunlola said Wednesday that ECOMOG forces were "on top of the situation" in Masiaka and Malama, where ECOMOG troops and rebels clashed on Monday. "We have succeeded in blocking them from regrouping and posing any threat," he said. Okunlola said there were "small but scattered groups of rebels who have been uprooted from their bases by ECOMOG" and were now roaming the area. "Villagers have also informed us of the discovery of shallow graves containing rebel corpses and they have seen retreating rebels dragging corpses as they flee," he added. Last week's attacks  fueled speculation that the rebels were planning an attack on Freetown. "If they come without arms, we shall welcome them to spend the Christmas happily," Okunlola said of the rebels. "But if they come with arms, we shall give them a fitting welcoming ceremony." The Rome-based Missionary News Agency (MISNA) reported Wednesday that a number of people may have been killed at Masiaka Monday in a three-hour battle which caught ECOMOG by surprise. The report said several civilians, including women and children, had been kidnapped.

The government has set up a radio station at Kenema, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Wednesday. The station, which is only 45 miles from a major rebel base at Kailahun, is aimed at broadcasting peace messages to the rebels.

British Junior Foreign Office Minister Baroness Symons told the House of Lords Wednesday that Britain had moved to "express to the government of Sierra Leone our concerns" over the arrests of journalists in Sierra Leone last week, including two BBC correspondents. "We have asked the High Commission to point out that, while we understand the effects of inaccurate reporting on the fighting, we look to the government of Sierra Leone to see what can be done to ensure accuracy, for example, by means of daily bulletins on the security situation," she said in response to a question by Liberal Democrat Lord Avebury. Symons told peers Sierra Leone was facing many daunting challenges, including a grave humanitarian crisis, but that the Sierra Leone government was doing its best to build a better future for its people.

Sierra Leone's Ambassador to the United States, John Leigh, has criticised press coverage of recent fighting in Sierra Leone, calling reports which appeared in the U.S. media a "reproduction of wire news service reports emanating from local Sierra Leone journalists" whom he accused of having "low professional standards." In a press release dated 11 December and issued on Wednesday, Leigh said recent raids in northwestern Sierra Leone led by former AFRC Chief Secretary Solomon "SAJ" Musa were not an attempt to attack Freetown, but instead was an apparent attempt by the rebels, after being flushed out of their forest base into the grasslands where they lacked cover, "to escape from Port Loko east to Moyamba and thence by sea to a neighbouring republic widely suspected of supporting the AFRC/RUF ousted junta." Leigh said Musa supposedly planned to travel via Rogberi and Masiaka into Bradford, and from there down the Mabang River to the "makeshift" Port of Tombo. He dismissed as an "elaborate hoax" Musa's statements indicating that he might be willing to surrender in exchange for safe passage to a third country so that he could join his wife and children. "Musa's hoax about wanting to negotiate the surrender of his faction and wanting to talk to and be with his wife and children is also another standard RUF practice of misleading the opposition and lulling them into complacency while secretly making massive preparation to surprise and destroy the democratic forces of the people," Leigh said.

Ambassador John Leigh has disputed a December 3 Agence France-Presse (AFP) news report that a briefcase stolen from President Kabbah's hotel room in Paris during the Franco-African summit contained as much as $50,000 in cash. "President Kabbah carries little or no currency during his travels," Leigh maintained. "Instead, he uses one of his selection of credit cards to pay for his purchases...Only personal family papers, copies of his speeches, conference notes, and reminders were in the stolen briefcase." Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai told reporters on December 2 that the briefcase contained an unspecified amount of cash and documents "of vital importance to the state." The AFP report cited French police sources.

The Sierra Leone conflict will be on the agenda of a two-day meeting Central Organ of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, the Xinhua news service reported on Wednesday. Other items to be discussed will be the border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Comoros, and Burundi.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook sparred Wednesday with members of a Parliamentary committee investigating the so-called "Arms to Africa Affair" -- allegations of Foreign Office complicity in arms shipments to Sierra Leone's civilian government then in exile by the London-based mercenary firm Sandline International, in possible violation of United Nations sanctions. The Committee chairman, Liberal M.P. Donald Anderson, told Cook: "It could be argued that everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong in this sad affair." Cook said the Committee had merely gone over the same ground as an independent investigation by Sir Thomas Legg, which criticised civil servants but absolved Foreign Office ministers from any blame. "I don't think in your hearings you have uncovered a single material fact that is not in Legg," Cook told the Committee.

15 December: ECOMOG troops killed at least 80 rebels and captured 50 in a counter-offensive Tuesday to drive them away from Freetown, witnesses and aid workers said. An ECOMOG spokesman said the dawn ambush was launched against hundreds of rebels attempting to cross the Mabang River near Magbontoso. "We are mopping up in the hills. We have crushed the rebel threat to Freetown," an ECOMOG officer said in Sumbuya as the sound of artillery and mortar fire was heard in the distance. An aid worker from the Magbontoso area said the bodies of dead rebels were being washed downstream. "Although 80 of their bodies have been found this morning, the final death toll for the rebels is expected to rise to more than 100," he said. Hundreds of trucks and busses left Freetown for the interior, while vehicles which had been trapped up-country by rebel activity arrived in the capital carrying rice, palm oil, and other food supplies.

Vice President Albert Joe Demby said Monday that, "The government of Sierra Leone believes that rebels have a safe haven in Liberia." Demby made the statement to journalists in Monrovia after holding talks with Liberian President Charles Taylor. "It is an open secret that Sierra Leone dissidents move freely in and out of Liberia," he added. Demby, who headed a delegation which included Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Dr. Sama Banya and Foreign Ministry Deputy Director General Sahr Sundu, met with Taylor to pass on a "special message" from President Kabbah. The letter's contents have not been disclosed, but Demby said it was Kabbah's response Taylor's offer to mediate between the Sierra Leone government and AFRC/RUF rebels. President Taylor has urged the Sierra Leone government to reach a negotiated settlement, while denying that Liberia has been lending support to the rebels. The Liberian government continues to insist that any Liberians fighting in Sierra Leone are "soldiers of fortune." Demby said that the Sierra Leone government would continue to pursue both military and political options to end the country's civil conflict.

Sister Nirmala, the successor to Mother Theresa as Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity, called Monday for the release of Italian priest Father Mario Guerra, who was kidnapped last month by a rebel faction led by former AFRC Chief Secretary Captain Solomon "SAJ" Musa. She made the appeal at a mass held in Makeni. Sister Nirmala said Sierra Leone's civil conflict had caused "untold suffering on the people." The Bishop of the Diocese of Makeni, Father Giorgio "George" Biguzzi, joined in appealing "for the unconditional release of Father Mario."

Three reporters, describing themselves as "free-thinking members" of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, announced Tuesday they would defy warnings given to the news media Saturday by Information Minister Dr. Julius Spencer and Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe to submit their news to a censor, and vowed to go underground to publish news "of the war, rebel atrocities, corruption in high places and abuse of human rights" over the internet. The group, calling itself the National Independent Neutral Journalists' Association of Sierra Leone (The NINJAS), said in a statement: "Journalists in Sierra Leone respect Brigadier Khobe. We appreciate the immense feat he performed last February with the help of the presently-absent Sandline mercenaries. However, we cannot allow our profession to be reduced to producers of censored news reports...We appeal to Dr Spencer and Brigadier Khobe to understand that we are not rebel sympathisers or collaborators. But a journalist just cannot afford to lose his independence or his neutrality in reporting stories."

14 December: RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh's appeal against his treason conviction and death sentence will begin in January, Minister of Justice and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said on Monday. "The reason for the delay in all appeals, including Corporal Foday Sankoh's, is shortages of staff in the judicial system," Berewa told a symposium of ministers in an address which was broadcast over SLBS radio and television.

22 civilians charged last week in Magistrate's Court will be put on trial this week, court officials said on Monday. The defendants face charges ranging from treason and aiding and abetting to conspiracy to overthrow the government of Sierra Leone by unlawful means. Among those charged are Mildred Hanciles, a former SLBS broadcaster; Prince Edward Nicol, former Public Relations Officer at the Ministry of Health; Amadu Jalloh, a senior journalist with Liberty Voice; Manso Mbompa Turay, editor of the defunct Eagle newspaper; Conrad Roy, editor of the Expo Times; Sheikh Ibrahim Fofanah, Sierra Leone's former consul to Ivory Coast; Cecil Osho-Williams, the AFRC Secretary of State for Transport and Communications; Wiltshire Johnson, who was Mayor of Freetown during junta rule; Prof. Harry Turay, principal of Njala University College; and Alhassan Cole, a village headman.

The government has imposed a midnight-to-6:00 a.m. curfew and has warned that violators will be prosecuted. All clubs and bars are required to close by 11:30 p.m. in order to allow patrons to reach their homes by midnight, according to SLBS (state radio).

A government-appointed committee charged with evaluating evidence against persons detained in Freetown on suspicion of having collaborated with the AFRC military junta has recommended the release of 30 more civilians. The committee said at the weekend it had been unable to discover "any evidence of connivance with the ousted military junta," according to SLBS (state radio). Among those recommended for release were journalist Abubakarr Shaw and government secretary Sylvia Blyden, as well as nine police officers and prison personnel, according to the Agence France-Presse (AFP). The committee was also ordered to consider whether there were sufficient grounds to continue the detention of eight other civilians, including two women.

Sierra Leone's judicial system is being hampered by a lack of lawyers and judges, Justice Minister and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said on Monday. He said the government employed only 20 lawyers, about half the number needed. The lower courts needed 27 magistrates, 15 more than the 12 currently available; the High Court was short two judges and the Court of Appeals was short five judges. The Supreme Court, which requires a minimum of five judges, has only four, Berewa said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has repatriated 110 professionals from Guinea, including doctors, nurses, and teachers, the UNHCR said in Freetown on Monday. The newest arrivals are the last of 4,556 refugees who had been asked by the government to seek voluntary repatriation from refugee camps at Gueckedou. Sierra Leone's medical, education, and legal institutions remain seriously understaffed. Students are were among those airlifted from Kissidougou, the nearest airstrip to Gueckedou, where there are an estimated 100 refugee camps.

BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay, who was arrested last week and charged with filing a false report while covering a rebel ambush, and with not clearing his report with a censor, has been granted bail and fined $3,750, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Monday. BBC Makeni correspondent Sylvester Rogers was also arrested, but has not so far been charged. Concord Times journalist Sulaiman Momodu, who last week was reported to have been arrested, is now said to have gone into hiding, the AFP reported.

13 December: President Kabbah has urged Freetown residents to remain calm following reports of AFRC/RUF rebel attacks 30 miles from Freetown. "There is no reason to panic. There is no way the rebels can harm you. They are only a handful of people and not strong enough to make any trouble for you people in Freetown," Kabbah said in a radio and television address late Saturday evening. "ECOMOG has assured us 100 percent that they are completely on top of the situation and that the rebels are no match militarily for them. The ECOMOG force are far better armed than the rebels...There is no need for you to panic and begin to think of running away."

An ECOMOG spokesman said Saturday that ECOMOG troops had killed an unspecified number of rebels who attacked Sumbuya village on Friday, some 30 miles from Freetown. Travellers reported seeing more than a dozen bodies. The spokesman said the rebels were part of a group driven from the town of Magbontoso on Thursday, about 40 miles from the capital.

Minister of Information, Communications, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer told the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists Saturday that from now on all news reports on the war would have to be submitted to a censor. "All journalists are now required to clear all stories on the war with the Minister of Information, ECOMOG, or the information centre of the Sierra Leone military before filing them," he said. Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe, who attended the meeting, concurred. "In a war situation, no journalist can be neutral. You either support the democratic forces or you are against it," he said.

Liberian President Charles Taylor told the BBC Saturday that the Sierra Leone conflict is rooted in ethnicity, and said the government should strive to reach a negotiated settlement with AFRC/RUF rebels. "Some of the conflicts in Africa are as a result of our people using tribal and ethnic affinity to do what they want to do. This is also true in the Sierra Leonean situation," Taylor said. He denied that his government was supporting the rebels in an attempt to overthrow President Kabbah. "(Kabbah) is my good friend and brother," Taylor said. "What has happened is that the international community did not support President Kabbah sufficiently following his fresh election, and so everyone should have known that Kabbah was going to be in trouble. After he was overthrown, it is known by everyone that I have been friendly with Foday Sankoh for many years before the revolution. It is no secret. Following the junta's takeover of Freetown, we discussed it in ECOWAS and my view was, and still is, looking at the Liberian experience, trying to solve these conflicts that are, in fact, ethnic, tribal, regional, while military victory may be possible, it is not reasonable to accept that as a final outcome because once you attain military victory from a guerrilla standpoint, you may be able to push the guerrillas out of urban areas, but they go into small towns and villages." Taylor denied allegations that Liberia had been assisting the rebels. "That is not correct. Totally. You see, these are the falsehoods that people try, and I guess they say that only because I have been very firm in stating that go to the table and talk; forget about military victory, it did not happen with me, and I am trying to share my experience with you." He said it was impossible for Liberia to stop "every pistol or rifle" which crossed the border. "But to the extent that this government acquiesces in the deliberate movement of large quantity of arms and ammunition, I don't have that large quantity of arms and ammunition to ship across the border. There is an arms embargo against Liberia, and what I do have for security use in this country, I can't afford to give it to anyone else." Taylor criticised the Sierra Leone government's decision to execute 24 AFRC military officers last October. "You want guerrillas to come from the bushes. The first group that you catch, you execute, it is stupid. I am brave enough to tell him that. Others don't want to say it, and they mislead him." Taylor said Kabbah should stop looking for a "whipping boy," saying: "My friend and brother needs to show some leadership and talk to the RUF and solve this problem -- he is the president, no doubt about it -- on the negotiation table, and that's the end of the problem.

12 December: Sierra Leone will face serious food shortages by the middle of next year of peace is not restored, World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Catherine Bertini said Saturday following a three-day visit to the country. She said that harvests this year, in areas farmers had been able to plant, were likely to be good. "But next spring, before the next harvests, that's when there could be problems," she said. Bertini said that in the wake of AFRC/RUF rebel attacks in the north and east last week, tension in Freetown was high. "Two of our delegation went yesterday to the camp at Waterloo only to find it had been evacuated that day. Clearly people had been told to leave," Bertini said. Some 12,000 persons reside at the Waterloo displaced camp, about 20 miles from Freetown, which is run by a variety of non-governmental organisations. Bertini said part of the reason for her visit to Sierra Leone was to raise the morale of WFP workers. She added that the security of WFP field staff, particularly Sierra Leoneans, was a great worker. "Their situation is very precarious. It's a concern to us constantly," she said. Bertini said that Freetown appeared normal, but that was deceptive. "Freetown is bustling. To a casual observer it seems like normal business. But there's an underlying tension about the situation," she said. Bertini also visited the towns of Bo, Gerihun, and Blama during her visit. WFP officials said they saw no signs of fighting during their trip.

The Chairman of the United Nations Security Council Sanctions Committee, Swedish U.N. Ambassador Hans Dahlgren, is due to hold talks with Liberian President Charles Taylor. During Dahlgren's visit to Freetown last week, ECOMOG Force Commander Timothy Shelpidi repeated allegations that Liberia is aiding AFRC/RUF rebels in Sierra Leone and asked Dahlgren to confront Taylor with the accusations. Liberian Star Radio cited "sources" who reported that "white helicopters supplying arms to rebels operating mostly in northern and eastern Sierra Leone" had been seen recently.

11 December: 22 civilians accused of collaborating with the former AFRC military junta appeared in Magistrate's Court No. 1 in Freetown Friday, and were charged on a number of counts ranging from treason to aiding and abetting and conspiracy to overthrow the government of Sierra Leone by unlawful means. No pleas were taken, but a battery of defence lawyers were in court to represent their clients. Among the defendants were former AFRC Secretary of State for Transport and Communications Cecil Osho-Williams, and Wiltshire Johnson, a former minister in the government of President Momoh who served as Mayor of Freetown during military rule. Others named were Andrew Koroma, Kai Bangura, Sheik Ibrahim Fofana, Prof. Harry Turay, Abdul Michael Manu, Mildred Hanciles, William J. Smith, Prince Edward Nicol, Alhassan Cole, Alex Minteh, Amadu Boi Jalloh, Joseph B.M. Kargbo, Manso Mbompa Turay, Dennis Sankoh, Wappies Tarpeh Tuo, Haroun Rashid Tejan-Sie, Conrad Roy, Peter T. Bundu, Rudolf Palmer, and Mohammed Conneh. ECOMOG soldiers, police officers, and prison guards were deployed in the courtroom to maintain security. BBC correspondent Lansana Fofana reported that the court proceedings came as a surprise, as no public announcement of the trial had been made.

A political solution to the Sierra Leone conflict is unlikely, and an all-out military offensive is necessary to achieve lasting peace, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Dr. Sama Banya said on Friday. Banya said the authorities in Freetown "don't really believe" that RUF rebels would actually honour any peace agreement. He added that the rebels had shown no sign of agreeing to the government's two preconditions for negotiation: that they lay down their arms and recognise the legitimacy of the civilian government. Banya said the authorities believe that the rebellion could be put down by disbanding its leadership and by getting financial assistance from the international community for 5,000 more troops to reinforce ECOMOG. He said the government would fully guarantee an amnesty offered last month to five top rebel leaders, identified as Captain Solomon "SAJ" Musa, Sam "Maskita" Bockarie, Eldred Collins, Dennis "Superman" Mingo, and AFRC Chairman Major Johnny Paul Koroma, and would agree not extradite any who accepted safe passage to neighbouring countries. The extradition of RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh from Nigeria was a "different matter," Banya said, since "Sankoh had never been offered an amnesty." Banya suggested that the international community, including Britain, the United States, Italy, and the Netherlands, had "stalled" in providing aid necessary to finance additional troops from Guinea, Mali, Niger, and Ghana. A U.S. diplomat quoted by the Agence France-Presse (AFP) said that Washington had "already given substantial logistical support" to ECOMOG in the form of helicopters and vehicles, suggesting that no more assistance could be expected in the short term.

Inflation in Sierra Leone has dropped as a result of an infusion of foreign aid, and will likely end the year at 12 percent, a senior Central Bank official said on Friday. "The international community, especially the IMF, the World Bank, the European Union and Britain and the United States, have given Sierra Leone almost $200 million since the government returned from exile, most of it coming in the past three months as post-conflict assistance," the official said. He added that as a result gross foreign reserves rose to $49 million in November from $17 million in September, and were still climbing. "This dramatic improvement in our foreign reserves has wiped out the acute foreign exchange shortage which was strangling the economy and driving prices up," he said. "This improvement will trigger a fall in domestic prices which will eventually lead to a fall in the inflation rate. Inflation was 67 percent in December last year but by October this year we had brought it down to 19.5 percent, and by the end of December we expect to have driven it down to 12 percent." The leone has also rallied. In November, the black market exchange rate was Le 2,000 to the dollar and Le 3,000 to the pound sterling. Friday's Central Bank price was Le 1,600/1,623 to the dollar and Le 2,651/2,673 to the pound sterling. Commercial banks were exchanging the dollar at around Le 1,800, with the black market rate at Le 1,750. "For the past ten days, since the Central Bank provided us with foreign exchange, we have no list of customers asking us for foreign exchange. Before, we would have hundreds of customers on waiting lists," a senior Barclay's Bank manager said. However, Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture President Mike Carol said the reason for low demand for foreign exchange was weak business activity. "Many business people, especially the major ones, are still afraid to do business and so the demand for foreign exchange is simply not there," he said. "Optimism for a quick return to normal business faded because of the war and some businesses which had reopened shut down again."

10 December: ECOMOG troops repelled an AFRC/RUF rebel attack on the town of Magbontoso Thursday, less than 40 miles by road from Freetown, according to ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jimoh Okunlola. He said the attackers were remnants of a group of rebels who had attacked the garrison town of Masiaka. "There is no way they can get to Freetown," Okunlola said. "Our troops are holding all the strategic positions to Freetown." Okunlola told reporters calm had returned to the town, and that the rebels had been flushed out of the area. He gave no precise casualty figures, but said that several rebels had been killed.

BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay appeared in court Thursday and was charged with publishing false news likely to cause public alarm in connection with with his covering the war in Sierra Leone. "I am not guilty to the charge of publishing a false report," he told the court. Ojukutu-Macaulay was released on Le 6 million bond, and the case was adjourned until Friday. Two other journalists detained on similar charges, BBC Makeni correspondent Sylvester Rogers and Concord Times journalist Sulaiman Momodu, have not yet been charged.

United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Catherine Bertini arrived in Freetown Thursday to assess the country's food security situation. Nearly one third of Sierra Leone is currently cut off from food and medical aid, and with some 670,000 Sierra Leoneans in internal displacement camps or in refugee camps in Liberia and Guinea, malnutrition is reported to be widespread. Bertini is due to meet with President Kabbah, Foreign Minister Sama Banya, and Finance and Economic Planning Minister James Jonah during her three-day visit. A planned visit to Kenema is likely to be cancelled because of rebel activity in the area. Aid workers say a large part of Sierra Leone north of Kenema through the Loma and Wara Wara mountains had been cut off from food supplies and seed rice for several months. Some civilians emerging from those areas have reported severe malnutrition and starvation. The WFP is currently feeding about one million people in the areas to which it has access.

The South African private military firm Executive Outcomes (EO) announced Wednesday that it would end operations by January 1. "Over the past two years, the majority of governments in Africa have endeavored to secure and maintain law and order. The nature of these efforts do not justify our involvement," EO said in a statement. EO Director Nico Palm insisted that Executive Outcomes were not mercenaries, and that he was proud of the company's record in Angola and Sierra Leone. "We have had some good times and we are proud of what we have achieved,"  Palm said Thursday. He denied that recent laws passed by the South African government to ban mercenary operations had played a role in the company's decision to dissolve. He said the firm had obtained a permit to operate, but that the company's management was simply tired of the business. "I have got a family, and after ten years we had enough of it," Palm said.

9 December: Minister of Information, Communications, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer in a BBC interview on Wednesday confirmed the detention of three journalists, who were being questioned by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) on allegations that they failed to clear their reports with security officials or to the Ministry of Information  prior to publication. The three were identified as BBC correspondents Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay and Sylvester Rogers, and Concord Times journalist Sulaiman Momodu. "As far as I know, there are two issues involved," Spencer told the BBC. "First of all, the accuracy of the reports; secondly, whether it had been cleared with the security forces or myself. Now, if either of those two had not happened, then there’s a problem because, I think, the journalists have been warned enough that we are in a war situation, and that we have pointed it out very clearly. And what has been happening recently, is that people file reports which are inaccurate, which not only create panic, but also in turn will demoralise our own forces. In addition to that, they fuel the crisis. Because there are times when the rebels--in fact even now--they cannot quite communicate with each other. They are broken up into groups. But then some report is put out about some attack somewhere, and about the type of atrocities that have been committed -- we think quite a lot of the time it’s not true. And some other group hears it and says, 'Oh, well let us do the same type of thing'. So that is the problem we’ve been having. There are restrictions placed on reporting in a war situation." In response to a question as to whether the journalists' arrest might demoralise people, or give the wrong impression, he replied: "No it doesn’t. Talk to ordinary Sierra Leoneans and find out what they think about the types of reports that are going out. In fact most people are very angry at the types of reports going out, particularly when some people know what is really happening." The Concord Times (online edition) quoted Spencer as telling journalists at an emergency press briefing that, "The expression of an opinion without sufficient facts is a manifestation of ignorance...From now on, government will bring to book any journalist who publishes information about the war without cross-checking with either ECOMOG, the Ministry of Information, or Defence."

In a letter to President Kabbah, the independent journalists' group Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) called for the release of three journalists arrested by Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officers in Sierra Leone on Tuesday. "Reporters Sans Frontieres wishes you to use your influence to secure the release of the three journalists," the letter read. "As far as we know, they have merely exercised their right to inform as guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has been ratified by Sierra Leone. Our organisation also urges you to ensure that journalists can work freely and in safety throughout the country."

In a joint communiqué issued following President Kabbah's four-day visit to the Gambia, the two countries agreed to set up a Joint Ministerial Commission to develop economic and cultural relations between Sierra Leone and the Gambia "commensurate with the level and quality of bilateral political relations." The communiqué expressed confidence in the ECOMOG force, and called on the international community to come to ECOMOG's aid, so that it could complete its missions in Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau. President Kabbah and Gambian President Yahya Jammeh condemned the AFRC/RUF rebels still operating in Sierra Leone, and "after reviewing the international political situation, expressed their conviction that generally the establishment of peace and security in all conflict areas require non-use of force and a peaceful settlement of disputes."

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has offered to mediate a peace agreement between the government of Sierra Leone and AFRC/RUF rebels, President Kabbah said Wednesday at the conclusion of a four-day visit to Gambia. "Jammeh is an experienced negotiator, he knows my position, he has given me assurances that he will talk to some people who will convey messages," Kabbah said. He added that he had accepted Jammeh's offer, but said he hoped the rebels would "put down their arms and renounce violence."

The Brothers of St. Francis-Xavier Order in Rome called on Sierra Leonean rebels Wednesday to release of Italian priest Father Mario Guerra, who was abducted at Kamalu last month by a rebel faction led by former AFRC Chief Secretary Captain Solomon "SAJ" Musa. The Xaverian Order asked the rebels to "take into account the important human and Christian contribution made by Father Guerra to the people of the country over many years of missionary service, as well as (his) precarious health condition."

Sierra Leone's parliament has adopted a ten-point resolution which calls for arming members of parliament and providing them with basic military training. The resolution also calls for more logistics to be provided to the Kamajor militia, and the identification of all soldiers of the former Sierra Leone Army who have not surrendered to ECOMOG and are suspected to be supporting AFRC/RUF rebels. The resolution called for the eviction of these soldiers' families, who continue to live in the military barracks in Freetown.

The Chairman of the United Nations Security Council Sanctions Committee, Swedish U.N. Ambassador Hans Dahlgren, met Tuesday with ECOMOG task force commander General Abu Amadu. "The internal crisis in Sierra Leone has reached a level where the international community has to step in to stop further arms and logistics to the rebels," Dahlgren said. Ahmadu told Dahlgren that "evidence abounds" that Liberia continues to be a "major source of sustenance of the rebels." He said that some Sierra Leonean civilians were also supporting the rebels. Ahmadu said some traditional chiefs in Port Loko District recently held a closed-door meeting to discuss ways of helping "dissidents," adding that the "misguided chiefs are now in the security net."

8 December: ECOMOG has beaten back an advance on Freetown by AFRC/RUF rebels, ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jimoh Okunlola said on Tuesday. "The last fighting around Masiaka took place yesterday, and the rebels retreated into the bush having suffered heavy casualties," Okunlola said. Dozens of people died or were abducted during clashes on Saturday, while four miles from Masiaka the ground was littered with discarded shells and many trees were scorched. Aid workers in Freetown, quoting their colleagues up-country, confirmed that the rebels were retreating. Heavy artillery fire could be heard from the Freetown peninsula Monday night, and ECOMOG troops said they were conducting mopping-up operations. Some traffic has resumed on the Freetown-Makeni highway, travellers said Tuesday. Okunlola said the road was open to commercial vehicles east of Masiaka, but that passengers were being checked to ensure they were not rebels. "We are in charge of the situation, and we have stopped any further threat to security," he said. Another ECOMOG official said the rebels "were frustrated, and they want to use the very last of their energy," adding "there is no cause for alarm."

The chairman of the United Nations Sanctions Committee on Sierra Leone, Swedish U.N. Ambassador Hans Dahlgren, arrived in Freetown Monday for a four-day visit aimed at ensuring enforcement of arms sanctions against AFRC/RUF rebels. Dahlgren will meet with President Kabbah, and top officials from ECOMOG and Sierra Leone's Defence and Foreign Ministries. The visit comes amid reports that rebels are receiving arms from neighbouring countries. U.N. Special Envoy to Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo, said the U.N. Security Council "believes you cannot settle the present conflict in Sierra Leone through military force alone. The hostilities...should be mitigated by an attitude of accommodation, dialogue, and reconciliation."

More than 50% of Sierra Leonean children are being deprived of an education because of the country's civil war, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) representative in Freetown, Tony Bloomberg said on Tuesday. "In some parts of the country, seven out of every ten children are out of school," Bloomberg said. "(In Sierra Leone) even when children enroll in school, high dropout rates and repetition of school years are reflective of doubtful quality of education." According to Sierra Leone's Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, 45% of children attend primary school, but only 25% continue on to secondary school. In his budged address to parliament on November 27, Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Dr. James Jonah said the government would pay school fees for children in the first three years of primary school, a development Bloomberg called positive. He said UNICEF would formulate a policy urging schools to provide "a holistic entry point for health, nutrition, and other interventions" for children. "Schools should be zones of safety where children can be protected from sexual exploitation and violence," Bloomberg added.

Sierra Leonean refugee students in Liberia are requesting books, instructional materials, and financial assistance to allow them to remain in school, Liberian Star Radio reported on Tuesday. Mohamed Kallon, spokesman for the Sierra Leone Refugee Students Association, said educational institutions had asked them to pay school fees in U.S. dollars. As of December 9, Kallon said, the students will be in the streets requesting assistance.

President Kabbah has linked foreigners to efforts to aid AFRC/RUF rebels since his return to power in February. "We deported some foreigners because of their complicity with the bandits," Kabbah told reporters in Gambia, where he was concluding a four day visit. "Some of the foreigners decided to stay in neighbouring countries to act as agents for the bandits, selling gold and diamonds for them to buy arms." In April, the Kabbah signed an order expelling 22 persons, most of them Lebanese nationals, for giving "full support for the military junta." In June, the Sierra Leone government deported U.S. businessman Roger Crooks, allegedly for arms trafficking.

7 December: Hundreds of civilians have fled heavy fighting between ECOMOG and AFRC/RUF rebel forces at Lunsar and Yilleh, witnesses said on Monday. Aid agencies said ECOMOG and the Civil Defence Forces militia were battling rebels near Masiaka Monday, about 50 miles from Freetown. In fighting on Sunday, ECOMOG troops fought rebels who tried to cross the Gbere Bridge near Masiaka, killing 51, an ECOMOG spokesman said on Monday. "When we drove over the bridge yesterday on our way to Freetown, we saw scores of bodies on the bridge and on the roadside," an aid worker said. The rebels, who are said to have acquired new weapons and uniforms, have carried out a series of attacks on northern villages and towns in the past week. Military sources quoted by Reuters said that these latest rebel attacks from the north posed the greatest threat to the capital since the AFRC military junta was ousted in February. ECOMOG commanders have acknowledged the rebel push toward Freetown, but have dismissed it as a suicide mission. "The rebels say they want to capture Freetown. They are on a suicide mission and won't get past where we have trapped them, 50 miles north of Freetown," an ECOMOG spokesman said.

Sierra Leone's inflation rate has dropped from 67 to 12 percent in six months, Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Dr. James Jonah told a Chamber of Commerce gathering at the weekend, adding that the economy should soon see some benefit. He said foreign exchange would be infused into the economy "in the coming weeks," but did not reveal where the foreign exchange would come from. The government "is moving positively towards setting up a micro-economic base," Jonah added.

Ministry of Trade and Industry officials said Monday that importers of foreign brand cigarettes would need to acquire licenses to do business in Sierra Leone after January 1. Customs and trade officials have pointed to the large quantity of cigarettes being smuggled into the country, which has virtually "paralysed" the operations of Aureol Tobacco Company, a subsidiary of British-American Tobacco. A company spokesman said the firm "welcomes the new move which will act as a stimulus to the company to function in a normal trend."

The government will reduce port taxes in January, in line with lower tariffs in Guinea and Liberia, the AFP reported on Monday. Civil servant arrears from January 1998 are expected to be paid by Christmas.

6 December: Rebels attacked Magbere, 19 miles from Lunsar, on Sunday morning, intending to blow up the Gbere Bridge and cut the Freetown-Makeni road, according to a report filed by BBC correspondent Sylvester Rogers in Makeni. He said Kapras and other Civil Defence Forces militiamen had attacked the rebels, claiming to have killed 38 of them. Heavy fighting is reportedly continuing for control of the bridge. "Civilians fleeing to Makeni say they overheard the rebels saying that they were to spend Christmas in Freetown," Rogers reported.

ECOMOG troops, backed by the Civil Defence Forces militia, regained control of Lunsar on Saturday after the town was seized Saturday in an early morning attack by AFRC/RUF rebels, aid workers said Sunday. ECOMOG officers confirmed that they were in control of the town. Relief workers, quoting survivors, said the rebels had looted hospitals, killed about 30 Lunsar residents, and abducted 80 more. The BBC put the three-day civilian death in Port Loko District at almost 50, following a string of rebel raids. BBC correspondent Sylvester Rogers quoted eyewitnesses who said rebel fighters infiltrated Lunsar on Friday night, claiming they had come to reinforce ECOMOG in an effort to flush out rebels from nearby Mamusa village, where they had reportedly killed 8 civilians and burned down 17 houses. "They were promptly disarmed, as they had no documents to justify their claim," Rogers reported. "The people generously contributed to prepare food for them. The rebels are said to have suddenly disappeared at night. In the morning at 1:00 local time they attacked the town from three fronts, opened fire rapidly, causing panic among the inhabitants and the troops." An ECOMOG warrant officer and six civilians were reported killed in the attack, and 42 houses were set on fire. Six Lunsar residents were now receiving treatment at Makeni Government Hospital, Rogers said. Aid workers said residents of Lunsar and nearby villages had fled north to Makeni, leaving the town virtually empty. The Freetown-Makeni highway remains deserted, with hundreds of vehicles stranded in Makeni awaiting official confirmation that the road is safe to travel.

A Nigerian Alpha fighter jet attached to the ECOMOG force crashed while attempting to land at Lungi International Airport on Saturday, according to an ECOMOG statement issued on Sunday. "The accident occurred... when the (Dassault-Dornier) Alpha jet was returning from a routine mission after developing a technical fault on the final approach to landing," the statement said. The pilot ejected unhurt. ECOMOG is believed to have about four Alpha ground support jets in Sierra Leone, which it has used to attack rebel positions.

The Russian cargo ship Nicolas Strakov rescued 52 persons, believed to be Sierra Leoneans, in the Mediterranean Sea Sunday about 55 miles off Malta and near the small Italian island of Lampedusa, a frequent entry point for illegal immigrants. "The Nicolas Strakov rescued 52 non-EU citizens, thought to be from Sierra Leone, 10 of them women, who threw themselves into the sea...south of Malta from a small boat at the sight of the vessel," according to Italian Coast Guard statement issued in Rome. "Eight people failed to reach the rescue ship and are still missing." An Italian frigate and Maltese patrol boats and aircraft were searching the area for survivors, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

Catholic church officials say AFRC rebels led by Captain Solomon "SAJ" Musa are demanding a halt to ECOMOG bombing raids in return for the release of Italian priest Father Mario Guerra.

5 December: The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has urged the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) to resist the formation of a press council, arguing that it would have "long-lasting, far-reaching and unintended negative effects" on press freedom in Sierra Leone. "Forming a press council, composed mostly of non-media professionals, and including government officials, and granting it the power to fine and effectively censor journalists, would be, in our opinion, a serious case of good intentions gone awry," the CPJ warned in a letter to SLAJ President Frank Kposowa. The organisation suggested consideration of alternative ways to improve journalistic responsibility, such as training and education, and increased self-scrutiny on the part of the media. "As you are aware, many critical stories rely on confidential sources, and journalists who may not be able to 'prove' the truth of their stories to the press council's satisfaction will be censored if they cannot pay its fines. CPJ believes SLAJ and Sierra Leone's journalists certainly have the capability to maintain the responsibility of the profession without the assistance of a coercive press council."

President Kabbah arrived in Banjul, Gambia Saturday for a four day official visit to the country. Speaking at an official reception shortly after his arrival, Kabbah thanked Gambian President Yahya Jammeh for Gambia's support for efforts by ECOWAS to end the Sierra Leone conflict.

4 December: The ECOMOG force "completely destroyed" the AFRC/RUF rebel "Gbere Camp" near Gbere Junction on Thursday night following four days of bombardment by Alpha fighter jets, BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay reported on Friday. Over 70 rebels were reported killed in the fighting. Residents fleeing the area reported that the bombardment started after rebels initiated attacks on villages in Port Loko District in the past five days

ECOMOG troops, backed by the Civil Defence Forces militia, beat back a rebel attack on Lunsar Thursday, an ECOMOG spokesman said Friday. "ECOMOG troops holding the town, backed by local militiamen, attacked them before they could get into the town proper," he said. He added that the rebel force, which included women fighters, had now been cleared from the area. Relief workers who visited the hospital at Lunsar on Friday confirmed that loyalist forces were in control of the town, but quoted survivors from the nearby farming village of Mamara who said rebels had killed ten civilians and amputated the arms of five more. The BBC, quoting residents who reached Freetown after the raid, said rebels armed with AK-47s and machetes attacked Mamara just after 4:00 a.m. on Thursday. They said that over 55 rebels were killed in fighting with ECOMOG and the Civil Defence Forces militia, and that about 5 civilians also died. Relief workers reported that most of Mamara's 2,000 residents had fled, and that hundreds of civilians from the area were now arriving in Makeni. They added that bus and truck drivers in Makeni were afraid to travel to Freetown.

RUF fighters launched attacks on the towns of Karima, Alikalia, and Kambia, security sources said on Friday. No information was available on casualties. "We are very much in charge of the areas and conducting mopping-up operations," a security source said, adding that "a large quantity of arms and ammunition" had been seized.

ECOMOG troops, backed by the Kamajor militia, reportedly killed more than 40 AFRC/RUF rebels on Wednesday after they attempted to recapture the town of Kangama Golahun, in eastern Sierra Leone. A Kamajor spokesman said his troops managed to "wound many rebels who would eventually die in the bush."

Paramount Chief Bai Kelfa N'fat has urged the government to hold talks with the RUF. "The philosophy of fire putting out fire cannot work any more. This war will only end at the negotiation table," he told told a consultative conference in Kambia. N'fat said it was unrealistic to think that the war could be won militarily, and added that his people had already suffered "enormously." He said rebels had burned down 38 houses Sunday in a village five miles from Kambia.

Presidential spokesman Septimus Kaikai said the government's offer of amnesty and free passage to Nigeria for five top rebel spokesman is still open, and has no time limit. "But it will be better if they surrender very quickly for us to get the country back on track," Kaikai said. United Nations Special Envoy to Sierra Leone, Francis Okello, said the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL) would ensure that the government kept its promise. "If the rebels lay down their arms, UNOMSIL will ensure that government respects its promise of amnesty," he said. He added that those who surrendered would be registered by the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration Programme.

French police have arrested President Kabbah's aide de camp, Fandeh Turay, in connection with the briefcase stolen from Kabbah's room at the Hotel Regina during last week's Franco-African summit in Paris, Liberian Star Radio said on Friday. There has been no confirmation of the report by other news services. Turay had stayed behind to assist the police in their investigation. The briefcase is said to have contained important state documents and some $50,000 in cash.

Junior Sierra Leonean staff members are continuing to care for war-wounded civilians at St. John of God Catholic Hospital in Lunsar following the evacuation of seven Spanish doctors and three Sierra Leonean brothers to Makeni on Tuesday, Father Andrew Keita told the BBC in a report broadcast on Friday. He added that Catholic priests had been withdrawn from the towns of Kabala, Kamalu, Kamabai, and Kalangba in Northern Province, and their offices closed, for security reasons.

Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman has called ransom demands by AFRC faction leader Captain Solomon "SAJ" Musa for the release of Italian priest Father Mario Guerra "unrealistic", and said the government will not negotiate with the rebels or meet their demands, Liberian Star Radio reported on Friday.

3 December: Missionary priests shut down St. John of God Catholic Hospital at Lunsar Tuesday before evacuating to Makeni to flee rebel activity in the area, church officials said in Freetown on Thursday. "They were afraid rebels might attack the town, or try to abduct them," a church official said. An ECOMOG officer played down any rebel threat to Lunsar. "We are in full control of the town, and it is not possible for the rebels to take it," he said. He acknowledged that rebels had attacked nearby towns in the past week.

United Nations agencies issued a Consolidated Appeal Thursday for nearly $28 million to provide for the urgent humanitarian needs of some 770,000 internally-displaced persons and refugees affected by Sierra Leone's civil conflict. According to a U.N. statement, the short-term goals of the appeal are to support the government of Sierra Leone in its plans for post-conflict recovery. "They seek to facilitate the transition from the emergency phase prevalent in many parts of the country by addressing the basic emergency needs to promote a viable resettlement environment for affected populations," the statement said. The appeal's long-term objectives will be to strengthen the government's social services capacity, reduce poverty be creating jobs, and support good governance and peace-building efforts. "The humanitarian programmes will also reinforce foundations that exist to enable the resumption of development activities," the statement concluded.

A briefcase stolen from President Kabbah during the Franco-African summit in Paris contained $50,000 in cash, French police said on Thursday. The police said Kabbah's room at the Hotel Regina showed no sign of forcible entry.

ECOMOG troops have killed carried out air raids in Kailahun District, killing "a large number of rebels," security sources said on Thursday. ECOMOG reportedly began air surveillance of the eastern border area in mid-November, followed by air strikes. The security sources, quoted by the AFP, said the ECOMOG bombardment killed a large but unspecified number of rebels in Kissi Teng, Kissi Kama, and Kissi Bendu Chiefdoms. About 15 rebels were said to have surrendered following the air raids, which ended on Tuesday.

2 December: AFRC/RUF rebels attacked the town of Mange Monday, killing at least 35 persons and causing thousands to flee, aid workers and travellers said on Thursday. "More than 5,000 people have fled to Port Loko from Mange and from villages in the area following the attack," an aid worker said in Port Loko. He added that soldiers were digging trenches and that hundreds of Civil Defence Forces militiamen were patrolling Port Loko. Witnesses said the rebels used automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades in the attack, and set fire to many homes. Travellers said the road was blocked at Mange for two days, and that ECOMOG troops were now escorting convoys of trucks and busses along part of the route. An ECOMOG spokesman said he had no information about the attack, but ECOMOG soldiers said the rebels had been beaten back. The latest attack on Mange was the second in the past two months. The bridge there, the country's longest, is a strategic point along the road leading to Guinea. Aid workers said the town, with a population of some 20,000, was virtually deserted after the latest attack.

The World Bank has suspended disbursement of a $36 million loan to Sierra Leone which was to have assisted the state-owned Guma Valley Water Project to expand water supplies to Freetown. A World Bank official said the government had agreed to install water meters, so that the loan would be repaid with money generated from water sales. "But the government has not installed any meters, so the bank has been forced to suspend the loan until they are installed," the official said. Water company officials said only $7 million of the 1996 loan had been disbursed so far, while a fifth of the work had been completed.

President Kabbah's briefcase containing cash and government documents was stolen from the Hotel Regina in Paris during last week's Franco-African summit, Presidential Spokesman Septimus Kaikai said on Wednesday. He did not disclose the amount of cash stolen, but said the documents "are of vital importance to the state." Kabbah reported the theft after discovering the loss after he returned to his hotel room, Kaikai said, adding that a presidential aide was staying on in Paris to assist the police in their investigation. President Kabbah returned to Freetown on Sunday.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) organised a one-day seminar on humanitarian law for Civil Defence Forces (CDF) commanders in Kenema on Tuesday. An ICRC press release said that the 34 CDF commanders who received information on basic humanitarian ground rules in time of war "vowed to train further those under their command in the proper conduct concerning captured and wounded combatants, and in giving special importance to the protection of civilians." Other topics covered included first aid training and an explanation of ICRC activities in Sierra Leone.

The Sierra Leone government will set up a "Corruption Prevention Unit," Minister of Justice and Attorney-General Solomon Berewa said on Tuesday. "We are now on the warpath against corruption," Berewa told reporters. He said the unit would be "linked" to the presidency, and would be independent of the police. "The unit will investigate fraud from the presidency downwards and will include foreign investigators," Berewa said, stressing that no one would be immune from prosecution. "We thought after the coup and restoration of democracy everybody was going to turn a new leaf, but since we came back we have discovered that in fact the level of corruption is much higher than it was before the coup," Berewa said. He disclosed that authorities had uncovered a scam at the Income Tax Department in which a series of fraudulent cheques totalling $170,000 were issued to a fictitious company between April and November, under the guise of tax reimbursements. The cheques were cashed at two commercial banks and paid out to five companies and organisations, Berewa said. Three Income Tax Department employees have been detained and police are searching for two more persons in connection with the fraud. Berewa said the government would apply "emergency regulations" to give the courts a freer hand in investigating economic crime in government and parastatals.

1 December: AFRC faction leader Solomon "SAJ" Musa, who last month abducted Italian priest Father Mario Guerra, has threatened to kidnap Makeni Bishop George Biguzzi as well unless his demands are met. Diplomats in contact with Musa say he has demanded a satellite telephone, medicines, and contact with his wife Tina, currently detained in Freetown, before he would release Guerra. Biguzzi, who spoke to Musa by radio on Thursday, said told reporters in Freetown Monday that he told Musa the church had no money to pay ransom, and was in no position to negotiate with the authorities. "I told  him he is bargaining with the wrong person. I don't run the government and I don't have political power," Biguzzi said. Musa warned Biguzzi that "he was talking from a position of strength and that he was capable of coming to town to abduct me too," Biguzzi said. "At that point I told Musa I would pass his demands on to authorities," he added. Biguzzi said he also spoke to Father Guerra, who "sounded okay but who naturally wants to be freed."