Sierra Leone

Volume 1 No 9                                                         30 August 1995

Editorial

SANKOH MUST COME OUT FOR TALKS ... HE MUST TELL US WHAT HE WANTS ... OR ELSE HE RISKS BECOMING AN OUTCAST

Events in neighbouring Liberia have moved at an alarming rate over the last three weeks. On paper, at least, it should bode well for us in Sierra Leone. That there is an umbilical nexus between the chaos in that country and ours is a matter of fact. The war in Sierra Leone is the direct result of an overspill, deliberate or not, of that in Liberia. It should mean therefore that peace - if it has really and truly come -in Liberia should have a knock on effect on the war in Sierra Leone so we do not have to go down the route of anarchical madness into which the six or so self-publicist warlords in Liberia plunged their country. As long as the Liberian civil war is alive and raging it gives excuse and comfort for those hell raisers in Sierra Leone - the RUF, the hawks in the NPRC, renegade marauding bands from the Sierra Leone Armed Forces and malcontents from the previous APC regime - to continue their kind of war on our people, unmindful of the depth of resentment and fear among innocent citizens.

Foday Sabanoh Sankoh, the RUF leader who has remained hidden in the bush all these years while his fighters have unleashed the most horrific atrocities on our people, is a man who has a lot of explaining to do. By putting himself beyond the reach of men and women of goodwill during the past four and half years, he has missed a golden opportunity to share his vision - if he ever had one - with those in our country who had become dissatisfied with the direction into which the All Peoples Congress Party (APC) was taking the country before its unlamented overthrow by the NPRC; and, subsequently, those who felt aggrieved at the way the NPRC itself had frittered away the gains in political goodwill it acquired in the first 6 months of its rule.

Despite pleas from many quarters, including attempts by this paper, to extract some hopeful signals from the RUF, Sankoh himself has remained elusive and unapproachable. Consequently one has had to put up with conflicting signals from an uninspiring array of rebel spokespersons, from one day to the next. This has led to confusion and, by all accounts, exasperation for all those closely involved such as the UN special representative, the Commonwealth Secretary General, indigenous local organisations and respected civil leaders and above all, for all their faults, the NPRC government of Captain Valentine Strasser. Everyone has been frustrated.

In our own view, Sankoh has failed the cardinal test of leadership because he appears to lack control. This raises the inevitable question - can he, will he ever deliver? We ask this because as things stand now, unless he has full control over his men, even if he were to come to the conference table, the fighting might still go on as, indeed, previous attempts in Liberia have shown. In our case all the factions have not yet been clearly identified - the RUF being the only one so far. By ignoring calls to come to the negotiating table, Sankoh has inadvertently offered open house to other cowardly shadowy groups which are hiding behind his organisation. Unwittingly, he is playing into the hands of those who do not want peace.

Focus makes a direct appeal to the RUF leader to ACCEPT THE CALL TO COME TO NEGOTIATIONS. If he has misgivings about anything, let him clearly say so now so that steps can be taken to allay them. If he has not got the confidence to do so, or the means and whatever else it takes to get to the negotiating table, he should be reassured that the necessary facilities will be made available to him, and to his organisation, to make it possible for their representatives to come forward and be able to participate fully, on an equal footing, with others who are vital for any peace settlement to take effect in Sierra Leone. We are aware that the United Nations special envoy has given that assurance; we understand that the Commonwealth Organisation is poised to act should they be approached; more specifically, we ourselves have identified at least two friendly governments - Norwegian and South African - who are prepared to help in facilitating any move of this kind towards peace. The NPRC has stated their willingness to negotiate peace.

The RUF must respond to this call. We await their immediate response and hope that, this time, it will be the interest of Sierra Leone that will dictate their logic. If Sankoh and the RUF do not respond positively or at all, then they will run the real risk of being forever treated as outcasts, as they already are, by most of the masses in Sierra Leone. The very thought that those who would be their subjects, if they came to power, already perceive them in this light cannot be comforting. It should worry them as a prospect worse than death. Foday Sankoh must think seriously about it and act decisively - for once! Now is the time. 


EXECUTIVE OUTCOME IS MINING THE KONO MINES

Executive Outcomes - the company employed by the NPRC to recruit South African mercenary troops to fight in Sierra Leone - is laying mines throughout the diamond areas of Kono District. Their reason - to stop illicit mining by the residents. This came to light only when a Private soldier, attached to the Kono Task Force, was recently blown up and killed. Officials claimed that "he was on a looting expedition at the Fuel depot". Residents of Kono have been warned to "stay in their areas of concern". (In the next edition - Mercenaries - At what Price? .)


An appeal to the International Community

FAMINE AND MASS STARVATION THREATEN
THE CIVILIAN POPULATION

IT IS not widely reported, so it is not common knowledge. The truth is, Sierra Leoneans are starving, and starving to death very fast.

Citizens up and down the country, held captive for over a year in towns like Bo, Kenema, Makeni, Kambia, Moyamba, Bonthe - to name but a few - are dying daily in their hundreds. Rebel attacks on highways and supply routes have stopped relief supplies reaching areas where they are needed most. There is now a real threat of mass starvation as people in these large towns watch as the weeks go by, taking with them their last few precious ounces of energy and resilience. Their will to survive has been further dented by a feeling of abandonment. Thousands are now resigned to their fate.

Focus has received reports of walking ghosts in towns and villages; of skeletal frames pacing aimlessly up and down the streets with nowhere to go. In bushes nearby, the remains of corpses lie where their owners finally collapsed when they made that last desperate step in search of relief. They stumbled and fell, never to rise again, and were left at the mercy of the elements.

Emaciated people, some lying trussed up on pavements and writhing in agony from starvation, are populating most of our cities. They are homeless and sleep rough. Dispossessed and disoriented, many have collapsed from hunger in front of helpless bystanders who are unable to do anything for them. They themselves have gone without food for days. In the words of Chairman Strasser to the consultative conference "Everyday Sierra Leoneans are ... dropping dead with starvation". Unaccustomed to life in the big towns they cannot cope in their strange new surroundings.

Refugee camps and major town centres are festering with disease and hunger. Weak and feeble from an insufficiency of vital strength-building nourishment, hundreds have succumbed to the virulent ravages of cholera and other epidemics. Many refugee camps have experienced a 100% increase in cholera. At one - the Gondama displaced persons camp - an average of 10 deaths a day has been reported. Medical doctors at camp sites throughout the country are fuming with rage at their helplessness in not being able to save these lives for want of essential drugs and basic nutritive elements. They are particularly furious at government officials who are playing down the gravity of the situation throughout the country when the reality, as they see it, could not be more devastating.

The International Community which, in cohort with the NPRC, has so far been more interested in devising its kind of democracy for Sierra Leone than the condition of its war-affected people should switch some of its attention and resources towards alleviating this degree of suffering on the ground. Focus has been assured that there is no shortage of aid agencies which are prepared to risk the awesome task of distribution. "The fact is that enough supplies just do not exist and what there is cannot be taken to where it's most needed" said an exasperated aid worker. The Sierra Leone army has proved beyond all doubt that it is incapable of sustaining a campaign to regularly deliver the vital supplies necessary to sustain life and limb outside the capital.

Drastic innovative steps must therefore be taken such as the airlifting of food to designated towns. Sierra Leone cannot mount such an operation. We simply do not have the money or the logistical apparatus and expertise to do this. We therefore need urgent help from the International Community to make this possible. We implore them to help us build food storage depots in the major towns. With their further help, these should be stocked with essential foodstuff to sustain the civilian population, not forgetting those in outlying villages that can still be reached in the present climate. There are enough willing local hands, heads and muscle that can be called upon to put up these food depots, however primitive the structures might be. It is their functionality rather than their sophistication that matters. 

This is not beyond the capacity of the International Community or any of its wealthy constituent countries. We appeal to them, especially the British and US governments, and to the European Union, who have all played a key role in charting our return to democracy, for assistance. They have a moral duty to come to our aid if, as it is claimed, the political processes they have prescribed for us are meant to impact beneficially on the life of our people. Otherwise what is the use of the best democracy if the people in the country are dying in droves from starvation? It is people who make a country and the threat of decimation hanging over the heads of our own should be addressed as a priority over the shambolic political edifice whose creation is preoccupying the attention of a few privileged opportunists in Freetown.

The West recently commemorated the 50th anniversary of events in the 1940s - about man's inhumanity to man - during the last world war. Is it unreasonable for us to hope that those countries that took part in these commemorative pageants will now put their money and copious resources where their mouth is, in order to avert another human catastrophe already in the making in a country that does not deserve it? If they do not help now Sierra Leoneans will justifiably, in similar fashion, fifty years hence, be commemorating the abdication by the International Community of their historic moral obligation to save the lives of thousands of our people at a time when their rich and powerful economies were straining beneath the sheer weight of hugely embarrassing food mountains.

Focus says: 
LET'S HAVE FOOD BEFORE POLITICS. Our people are hungry and starving. The International Community must help. Just for good measure, how about say five airlifts of food by the dare devils of the RAF - No! Not the RUF but the RAF (the British Royal Air Force) - in their VC10 transporters? The types that were so readily available to fly sorties and supplies out to the more harzadous campaign to sustain Kuwait in the war against Iraq. It's true that we do not have oil ... yet ... but we, too, are humans. We have a right to live. 

(If you want to help set up a campaign to address/redress the situation described above, please contact the Editor, Focus on Sierra Leone, 79 New Park Avenue, Palmers Green, London N13 5NA or Telephone or Fax 0181-807-7352 and leave your name and contact number/ address on the answer phone.)


Journalists fined Le900,000

Dr Julius Spencer, editor of the New Breed and three of his colleagues, Donald John (Acting Editor), A P Conteh (Production Manager) and Alusine Bashiru (Printer) have been found guilty on eight counts of sedition and libel for an editorial, nearly 20 months ago, alleging that some senior government officials had siphoned money into foreign banks. The story was first carried in a Swedish newspaper. Fines totalling Le900,000 were imposed on the defendants with the alternative of one year's imprisonment on each count for each individual. The fines have been paid.


All said and done, INEC's Consultative Conference, though an organisational success in itself, may not have been necessary at this time

STRASSER ADMITS PEOPLE ARE DYING OF STARVATION

Addressing the recent National Consultative Conference of the Electoral Process organised by the Interim National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Chairman and Head of State, Captain Valentine Strasser had the following to say:

"When I accepted the invitation to open this conference, many things raced through my mind. How crucial this conference is to our country's political future, the unique opportunity we now have in charting a new course for the Republic, united in our readiness to forgive, reconcile and accommodate.

..... Ladies and Gentlemen as we convene here, the problems and questions are many, and we need some very quick solutions and answers, if the country must move forward. Burning deep in our minds I guess, is how security can or may affect elections slated for December this year.

Can General and Presidential elections be conducted, or should they be deferred? Given that the security situation deteriorates or improves, would the voter be secure on polling day? Should the Peace Process be linked with a date for elections? Assuming the RUF, true to their word, intends disrupting the electoral process, do we still insist on elections without a general cease-fire, and their full participation in the process? If we must have elections regardless of the RUF's threat to disrupt them, how are these elections going to be conducted and what voting system is going to be adopted given the current size of the displaced and refugee population?

Past experience has shown that politicking and electioneering in our country has always been characterised by widespread violence and bloody confrontations. We must have learnt our lessons now, and this time around, political groupings must be prepared to play by the rules. Therefore the setting out of a general code of conduct governing political party activities is also high on this conference's agenda.

..... Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen, the ongoing rebellion remains the largest single obstacle to the democratic process. A negotiated settlement to the crisis no doubt would prove more lasting and permanent. The government stands ready to talk, but those talks must be unconditional. We are prepared any day anywhere to sit around the table and begin unconditional talks with the rebel movement about the need for a general cessation of hostilities. In fact I have been told that seats were even offered to the movement at this conference, why are they not participating?

..... When you consult and deliberate, when you take your tea breaks and luncheons, remember that everyday Sierra Leoneans are being cold bloodedly slaughtered, driven from their homes and dropping dead with starvation. Remember the thousands who have lost their lives, their families, their homes, nothing will be the same again for those people. I convey my deepest sympathy to those ones who have been the most traumatised by the bloodiest four years our beloved country has ever witnessed in its history."

Brave and candid words for which Focus unreservedly congratulates Captain Strasser. For once the real truth of our plight has been put in few words and in stark fashion. If only we had, earlier, had such straightforward assessments and public statements about our current situation put before the nation with such candour, it is almost certain that the confusion and apparent lack of direction in the country would not have been so pronounced. Who knows, even the need for a newsletter like Focus would not have arisen. The truth, however unpleasant, can actually help our cause and our leaders and opinion formers must not be afraid of it. One is heartened by the frank admission of starvation which has gripped our compatriots. Let's hope that the International Community will respond to the appeal which appears on the adjacent page. 

The rhetorical questions asked by our Head of State should not be allowed to mask the truth of the admissions inherent in them. They show the precarious nature of the situation in which we find ourselves. It is therefore a matter of grave regret that the National Consultative Conference on the Electoral Process, held in Freetown between 15-17 August, which received his wise words, nonetheless went ahead to endorse - it must be said, overwhelmingly - an election in February 1996. However, the fact that the decision was overwhelming does not necessarily make it right. We say so for the following reasons:
 

(1) There are no viable constituencies upon which to predicate an election especially under the first past the post rule, because most of their constituents are dead, maimed, displaced or inaccessible; this means that new constituencies must be delineated by amalgamation or re-partitioning - a task that will be problematic and costly in any event. For this reason a new method of voting may be introduced;

(2) The new system that was endorsed is that of proportional representation which depends on a candidate list supplied by political parties. (Currently 17 have been registered!) It has the singular virtue of ensuring that ethnic minority tribes will be adequately represented. But it is new to Sierra Leone and must be understood by all for it to work; hence a period of education needs to take place if it is to be effective and not cause confusion and discord;

(3) A voters list must be compiled. If (1) above is true, how realistic is the prospect of reaching potential electors in order to compile a voters' list? We suspect it is the reason why some people are preaching that one-quarter of an election is better than no election, meaning "Let's hold the election where we can hold it now and forget about those areas where we cannot reach". Our response to that is simply this: What is the use and purpose of holding a one-quarter election? What is it meant to achieve? An election gives opportunity to the people - in which case the majority of the people not a contrived majority of the minority - to express their wishes about the government and those whom they wish to represent them in it.


This cannot be achieved now and for a while to come as long as the security situation, which the Chairman described in his address, remains critical. We very much regret therefore that he left this decision to the INEC conference when, with all the facts at his disposal, he could have saved the nation valuable time and resources by advising INEC to defer the elections indefinitely until the security situation was more conducive. It was a golden chance sorely missed to stamp his authority.

But of course some people say, how else are you going to get the boys in khaki out of power? Our response to this red herring of an argument is an Interim Government of National Unity. The problem with those who merely reject it - including the entire NPRC and their advisers - is that they are not even prepared to contemplate the principle. Instead the moment they hear the phrase they instinctively throw an instant "No" back at you. But if the principle of an interim government of national unity - the phrase explains itself - is accepted, the issues of who goes into it and its mandate can be calmly worked out and it should give no major problems. In this way, you target peace, not the boys in khaki, and involve everyone including the army in the national effort to secure peace and harmony for the country. It also helps to bypass all the hazards mentioned in points (1), (2) and (3) above. With the whole nation notionally throwing its weight behind a representative government, the latter will command, one hopes, some trust among the warring factions. It will also afford the country a significant dividend by cutting out the opportunist who want the soldiers out only because they feel it is their turn to "chop" the nations resources and control the rest of us like the days before the coup of April 29 1992.

Our advice to INEC is to carry on with the process of civic education and working out the best method for bringing Sierra Leone back to democracy. Its proper task should be to prepare the ground work and produce a blue print for all possible eventualities in our new democracy when it comes - after PEACE. The whole of Sierra Leone should be its brief not just the "safe" parts of it. Mr James Jonah should heed his own words to the conference that "unless the RUF is willing to sit at the table it will be a mirage because we cannot achieve what we want to achieve". We agree, but why did he then let the conference go ahead if this was his honest judgement of the situation? The country is now faced with the uncertain prospect of an election in February 1996 although some feel a more realistic date is somewhere in May or June - the security situation permitting. _


NORWAY HOSTS SIERRA LEONE PEACE CONFERENCE

The Sierra Leone-Norway Cooperation - a friendship organisation between Sierra Leoneans in the Royal Kingdom of Norway and the Norwegian people - hosted a very successful international conference for peace on Sierra Leone between 27-29 July. A four-person delegation was appointed to represent the meeting at the national consultative conference which was recently held in Freetown. Four resolutions were passed, including one which demanded that forthcoming elections be deferred until peace was finally established throughout the country.

The meeting to which both the NPRC and the RUF were invited but failed to attend, was addressed by the Chief of the African section of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr R Dalen. He pledged his country's support for all genuine efforts to bring peace to Sierra leone. The following communique was issued at the end of the conference:

International Peace Conference on Sierra Leone
27-29 July 1995
Oslo, Norway

Delegates attending an international conference on peace in Sierra Leone in Oslo, Norway, from 27-29 July, 1995, have called on Captain Valentine Strasser, Chairman of the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) and Corporal Foday Sankoh, Commander of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) to agree on an immediate ceasefire, and embark on peaceful negotiations to end the war in Sierra Leone. Both the NPRC and the RUF were invited to attend and address the meeting. They did not attend, and no reasons were offered for their failure to honour the invitation.

The Conference attracted over 40 delegates representing more than 15 Sierra Leonean and International organizations from Sierra Leone, Europe and North America.

In his opening statement to the Conference, Mr Banda-Kulu Davies, the Chairman of the Sierra Leone-Norway Cooperation, which convened the meeting, regretted the absence of the RUF and NPRC. He advised delegates not to be discouraged by their absence. "We should work hard, and use all peaceful means at our disposal to secure peace in our beloved country", he said. Mr Davies assured delegates that his organisation will continue to appeal to the Norwegian government to take a greater interest in the search for peace in Sierra Leone. He called on all Sierra Leonean organizations abroad to unite and work for an end to the war. 

A representative of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, Mr R Dalen, emphasized his country's concern about developments in Sierra Leone, and its commitment to peace. While acknowledging Norway's role and prestige in conflict resolution and peace making, he reminded the delegates of the expectations and problems arising from that role, and the limit of Norwegian resources. However, he assured the delegates of his country's continued interest and desire to help in the search for peace in Sierra Leone.

During their three-day deliberations, delegates examined strategies for achieving a ceasefire and bringing the factions to the negotiating table. They also examined the role of the international community in the Sierra Leone conflict, and the current political transition process in Sierra Leone. In their final resolutions, delegates called on the international community to take an active interest and play a positive role in the conflict. Delegates also appealed to the international community to help bring the conflicting parties to the negotiations table and to ensure peace and stability is returned to Sierra Leone.

On the transition process, the conference welcomed the NPRC's attempts to return the country to democratic rule but called for a postponement of the elections until peace is achieved in the country. The conference took exception to the decision by the Interim National Electoral Commission (INEC) to only allow Sierra Leonean abroad to attend the forthcoming National Consultative Conference taking place in Freetown, from 15-17 August, 1995, as observers. 

The conference called on INEC to reconsider its decision and allow all Sierra Leoneans to fully participate in the conference as delegates. The Conference agreed to send a delegation to attend the consultative conference. The delegation will convey the conference resolutions on the current transition process which include a call for postponement of the elections, and the calling of a National Peace Conference. The delegation is expected to arrive in Freetown on 14 August 1995.

The final resolutions of the conference are currently being distributed to NPRC and RUF, all organizations and the press in Sierra Leone, International organizations and foreign governments.

The conference organized a demonstration on Thursday July 27, 1995 through the streets of Oslo to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry to raise awareness in Norway about the situation in Sierra Leone, and to appeal for Norway's assistance in the peace process.

The conference was supported by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry which provided 91,000 Kroner (£9,000) for the hosting and running of the event.


RAVAGES OF THE CHOLERA EPIDEMIC

The Western Area
*** Many cases have been reported in hospitals and clinics across Freetown. With a fresh influx of refugees the city's amenities are at breakpoint. Wellington, on the outskirts, continues to be at the sharp end of the crises with scores of patients reported to be dying daily. The situation has been made worse with the arrival of over 5,000 refugees from Port Loko and Lunsar in the North - scenes of some of the most harrowing attacks last month when scores of civilians including businessmen were killed or drowned. According to eyewitness accounts "they are simply living in abject squalor" in conditions similar to those in the disused clay factory nearby. Informed sources now believe that, unless urgent preventive measures are taken now, it will only be a matter of months before it becomes fully blown in the capital. 

*** At the Kissy clinic 12 cases were reported. Because of its hopeless condition, the clinic could admit only 4 patients. The others were turned away to go and die through no fault of the clinic.

The Southern Province
*** Bonthe has witnessed the latest outbreak with over hundred deaths reported. Several comatose cases have been turned away from the town's overstretched hospital. Nearly the whole population of the adjacent York Island, which does not have a hospital, is believed to have been overwhelmed by the disease.

*** In Bo, whose population has risen from 450,000 to nearly 1 Million over the last year, people are dying of hunger and starvation due to severe shortage of food. Cholera is rampant - over 500 cases were reported in mid August - spreading from the Gondama refugee camp 7 miles away into encampments in the middle of the town. 30 deaths were reported at the beginning of August and another 20 by the time of these new cases..

The Eastern Province
*** A total of 150 cases of cholera have been reported in Kenema with 60 deaths in the last two weeks alone. Panic, like the disease itself, is rife among the inhabitants. A senior Health Superintendent for the Eastern Region, Mr Muana said the disease started in the displaced people's camp in the town and was caused partly by starvation, malnutrition and overcrowding. An outbreak of measles among malnourished children has been reported.

*** 23 people were reported to have died of starvation and malnutrition among residents of Majihun camp in Segbwema. The camp is surrounded by rebels and there is an ever present threat of forced recruitment if residents dare outside its perimeters in search of food. "Many suffer from fevers and the common cold" according to camp Chairman Mr A K Jusu and welfare officer Mr Sheku Sheriff. (Culled from Unity Now.)

*** The crime rate in Kono District has increased hundredfold, causing its residents to pass sleepless nights beacause armed robbers comb the streets at night, causing havoc. A cholera epidemic has broken out according to Dr Gborie, a medical officer.

The Northern Province
*** Nearly 500 cases and about 90 deaths have been reported in at least six Chiefdoms -Gbanti, Gbendembu, Gowahun, Briwa Limba, Bombali Sewa and Safroko Lima - all in the Bombali District. Briwa Limba is the most affected.

*** Another 30 people have died in villages in the Tonkolili District.

*** 27 deaths were reported during mid August in the Koinadugu District.


Alimamy Sankoh pledges to Focus

"WE WILL ATTEND A PEACE CONFERENCE IF IT IS ORGANISED
BY TRUSTED SIERRA LEONEANS"

In a recent telephone conversation with Focus, Alimamy Bakarr Sankoh, RUF spokesman, denied that the RUF was against attending a peace conference and pledged that they would be prepared to attend one if it was organised by Sierra Leoneans whom they could trust. The surprise statement was made to the editor of Focus in a telephone conversation with Sankoh from his new station in Accra, Ghana. An earlier faxed message to the newsletter sought an interview to discuss "some very important matters". In the event a call was made to Sankoh during which he conveyed his pledge.

Asked why the RUF had not sent representatives to the Oslo Conference, Sankoh said that they were not aware of it but that they would have attended if they had been told. When news of recent government claims that RUF forces had been put to flight and were on the run was put to him, he denied that they had suffered any significant reverses. Instead he claimed that their forces killed 23 South African mercenaries in an encounter between Fogbo and Waterloo  - a claim that is so far unsubstantiated. He also said that the RUF were still occupying parts of Kono District and that they had "captured a lot weapons from the South Africans" in their last encounter in the area. He further claimed that the South African mercenaries were busy mining diamonds. He said that there was a kind of mutual understanding that each should stay within their own areas. But he denied the charge that the RUF were mining diamonds, a belief that is widely held among most commentators. "Our commander and leader Foday Sankoh does not allow us to do that sort of thing. We are not mining diamonds." He also claimed that the RUF does not have enough money to do its own business. "That's one reason why we are unable to travel abroad to explain our position. We do not have money and he (Foday Sankoh) would not allow us to contact or canvass any government or business people for money; he believes we should depend on our-selves - self reliance". When asked how they are able to run their offices in Ivory Coast (where Ibrahim Jalloh, RUF's PRO man is based) and now, Accra - Sankoh's own HQ - he told Focus that they were harvesting and exporting the cocoa, coffee, piassava and palm kernels that are growing untended in areas under their control in the South and East. "That's how we are able to raise funds by selling these products across the borders. But we do not touch the diamonds. Our leader will not allow it".

Sankoh opened his conversation with claims that he was "being persecuted by senior members of the NPRC", quoting in his support a recent article in West Africa magazine as proof that he and his colleagues were being hunted by people who wished to kill them. "How can you expect us to come to a peace conference when our safety is at risk from members of the NPRC regime?" When told that this would be guaranteed by the International Community or a country which would be entrusted with the hosting of such a peace conference, he retorted that "we will only attend if our own brother Sierra Leoneans took the initiative to set up a conference". He was then asked whether the RUF would be prepared to attend if the NPRC government was also present at such a conference. He replied: "We are prepared to talk to any of our brothers and sisters, so long as they are Sierra Leoneans, wherever and whenever. We just do not trust the NPRC to organise or hold a peace conference because they, like us, are parties to the conflict. We do not recognise them." He was finally asked "So would you be prepared to come to a conference if we tried to set one up probably in London or Norway?" "Yes", came the instant reply, "provided you can guarantee our safety and provide us with travelling documents and sufficient time to prepare ourselves."

In a broadcast interview two days later with the BBC's Focus on Africa on August 23, monitored in London, Sankoh said that the NPRC and the RUF were the same people. "We are both rebels" he said, the only difference being that the NPRC has foreign troops and mercenaries fighting on their side. He said the NPRC only had control in Freetown, and Freetown was not Sierra Leone; he challenged the NPRC to hold a meeting in the Provinces. Sankoh also claimed that they were not attacking food convoys saying they only attacked military convoys. It was the NPRC not the RUF that was starving the people in order to feed mercenaries. Asked how long, from his perspective, he thought the war would go on, Sankoh told his interviewer, Elizabeth Ohene, "When the NPRC is serious and ready for peace"

Note:
Alimamy Sankoh was the man who surfaced, about 18 months ago, to announce himself to the world as the Foreign and International Affairs spokesman for the RUF at a time when most people did not have a clue about the RUF's origin and purpose. Since then, RUF fortunes have fluctuated and are currently on the downward slide. Sankoh himself is still an unknown quantity. Recent rumours say that he no longer represents the RUF and that he has been disowned by his comrades. But he continues to be foremost in putting the case of the RUF to the media, having contacted this editor on at least three occasions in the last 8 months. His counterpart, Ibrahim Jalloh, the RUF's PRO whose letter to Focus was published in FSL Vol 1 No 7, seldom gives interviews. It is still not clear what the difference is between their respective roles. The emergence of another spokesman called Fayia Musa only compounded the confusion. It was he who commented, soon after Captain Strasser's announcement of elections and the lifting of the ban on political parties on April 27 this year, that Corporal Foday Sankoh is not interested in elections because he is not a politician. There is some evidence now that the RUF lacks what it needs to present its case at a future peace conference and that this, above all, is most probably the reason for their equivocation on peace and negotiations with the NPRC government. With discordant voices claiming to represent the RUF, it is difficult for would-be mediators to know exactly who speaks on behalf of the RUF or its stand on various issues. Sankoh told Focus that there is no rift in their camp and that they have their briefs which they were entitled to put forward at the appropriate times. It was, he said, agents of the NPRC who were deliberately trying to misinform the international public.


NPRC REFUTES 'BOGUS' RUF CLAIMS

The NPRC has emphatically denied an RUF claim that it shot down an M17 helicopter in the Northern province. According to a government version of the incident, the chopper developed engine trouble and ditched when a bird flew into its engine while in flight.

The authorities have also described as totally false the further allegation that RUF forces killed South African Executive Outcome troops during a recent operation near Freetown. Military sources say the RUF is being driven out of towns and villages in parts of the East and South, having blasted them out of their bases in these areas.

Military sources have further claimed that they intercepted a radio message from the RUF to Charles Taylor's NPFL in Liberia for 600 reinforcement troops. The government for its part is believed to be receiving help from ULIMO fighters from Liberia. It is alleged that Liberian refugees, who were in a rehabilitation camp, have been armed and sent to the frontline where they are fighting alongside government troops.



August

A CHRONICLE OF VIOLENCE

..... AND SUFFERING

There was complacency in government circles following their limited successes against rebels during this period. It is emerging that the NPRC has polished its PR act with a noticeable deftness to their media announcements during the last month. The veneer of self-congratulatory statements, underplaying especially the pervasive role of the South African mercenaries, has nonetheless been tinged with real proven successes on the ground. But this masks the gravity of the task that still lies ahead to get on top of this war, let alone win it. Apocalyptic predictions of popular antipathy towards the RUF alone may not be the answer as our armed forces will discover in the months ahead.

An incident we could not report last time was the spate of attacks in the Bo District during the second and third weeks of July. Rebels went on the rampage in three chiefdoms - Ngelehun Badjia, Bagbwe and Njala Komboya rasing over 40 little towns and villages such as Giba, Bauya, Pelewahun, Loma, Gbaama, Sami, Gibima, and Daala. According to the New Citizen newspaper, able-bodied men, who were captured and forced to carry looted property for the rebels, were injected with water laced with pepper. In all, over 50 civilians were killed. Rebels had crossed from Simbaro Chiefdom in the Kenema District into the adjacent chiefdoms in the Bo District where they caused the mayhem. All the attacks were carried out by men in full regular military uniform.

The mother of all rebel ambushes
What has been daubed the mother of all ambushes - the most serious so far throughout this war - took place on Wednesday 2 August on the Freetown-Bo highway at the notorious stretch between Magbosi and Mile 91. The attack took place near Mile 77 on a convoy that was progressing towards the provinces. The convoy came under a salvo of bullets and RPG gunfire. Nearly 70 out of a total of 75 vehicles, mainly trailers and trucks - laden with precious relief supplies for the provincial cities of Bo and Kenema, were destroyed. Government claims that 15 people were killed proved a big lie and a realistic number is now put at between 80 and 100 people. Scores of the wounded were brought to hospitals in Freetown. It is impossible to say what happened to those who managed to escape into the bush under the hail of bullets. Many must have perished in their search for sanctuary. Described as the worst throughout the 4 year old civil war, this incident was preventable but, as before, it seems the authorities were given the wrong signals. There were calls for an immediate investigation. The government itself had enough doubts that it finally announced the setting up of an inquiry because of the widespread belief that the ambush could only have taken place with the collusion and connivance of elements in the army who had an eye on the goods on the vehicles. For example, it has been revealed to Focus that despite the protestations of the South African mercenaries that it was not safe for the convoy to travel up country at that material time, they were nonetheless overruled by senior officers and the convoy was allowed to proceed. Major Karefa-Kargbo, announcing the inquiry, said it would investigate why the ambush occurred, who were responsible and what, if any, losses had occurred so as to avoid future occurrences. We are reliably informed that at least 2 senior officers have been implicated and that the investigations are continuing. Some of the goods on the ambushed convoys have since appeared in markets in Freetown, Makeni and MaSiaka.

The violence continues nationwide
Following an encounter between the 1st battalion and rebel forces, military HQ announced on 3 August that 68 rebels were killed when a rebel base at Pelewama in the Valunyia Chiefdom, about 35 miles from Bo, was destroyed. The announcement claimed many rebels had drowned in the River Taia. A woman commando was also killed. No casualties were reported for the army.

On 10 August there was a raid on a convoy at Lalehun between Lago and Mano Ngiema, ten miles from Tongo Field. Three rebels were killed but the others got away with Le48 million and $8,000. A Lebanese diamond dealer, Alimamy Tatar and a staff sergeant and an adjutant based in the NPRC's regional secretariat in Kenema were killed. According to the local Concord Times report, Mr Tatar, nicknamed "Capitalist", had contracted with the secretariat for an escort to Tongo where he was intending to buy diamonds from (illicit) diamond traders. A female passenger was also killed. Their burnt out jeep and riddled bodies were left at the scene.

Not long afterwards another convoy was attacked between Dawebu and Kenema - 7 miles from Mano Junction the scene of a previous rebel attack. The gun battle lasted two hours.

On August 11 one of the least publicised massacres took place in the Pujehun District. On that ill-fated day, rebels - some say RUF rebels who are very active this area - raided an early morning market fair at Gbondapi in the Panga Kabonde chiefdom and killed over 50 market women. Simultaneous attacks were mounted on other villages like Jaahun, Nyandehun, Sayama. The local hunter group - the kamajohs -put up a stiff resistance but they were overrun, faced with the sheer superiority of sustained rebel fire. The River Malen nearby was littered with the bloated corpses of at least 35 people, according to eye witness accounts.

On August 18, there was an ambush on a convoy along the Bo-Kenema highway between Serabu (not to be confused with the one below) and Bandama. One person was killed and 6 civilians wounded.

On August 22 the government announced a major sweep from MaSiaka in the North to Moyamba and Rotifunk in the South West in an operation they called "Thunder" whose aim, they said, was to clear all rebels bases and to make the road network linking North to South safe from attacks and so dispense with the need for convoy escorts. They claimed 30 rebels were killed.

Almost simultaneously, at another briefing at Bo military HQ, it was announced that government forces had recaptured the towns of Serabu -the site of a renowned RC mission hospital, Kpetema - near a diamond mining field and Gondama - a mining site town of the Sieromco mining company. The towns, all in the Bumpeh Chiefdom in Bo District, have been under rebel control since the attacks of January this year. The army's statement said fighting lasted over a week to dislodge the rebels. They also said that a forced labour camp was invaded and its captives, numbering 120, were rescued.

On August 27 a food convoy, the first in weeks, finally arrived in Bo to a fanfare of unrestrained jubilation. The journey took 12 hours under a heavy military escort. _

Please note: Our account of the violence in the last edition - Focus Vol 1 No 8 - was captioned Mid-April to May. In fact, it should have read June to July. We very much regret the error.

STOP PRESS * SEVERE FAMINE ESPECIALLY AMONG CHILDREN IN KENEMA * MEASLES & CHOLERA KILL MANY * FOOD AIRLIFTED BY MEDICINS SANS FRONTIÈRE (MSF) * HUNDREDS STARVED TO DEATH * SITUATION CRITICAL BUT NPRC DELIBERATELY TRIVIALISING IMPENDING DISASTER * SAYS NGOs EXAGGERATING * STOP


LETTERS

Sugar-coated promises
This is not a war of front lines and battle fields. It is simply a slaughter of innocents. The government has failed to protect defenceless citizens in the Provinces. Patriotic Sierra Leoneans everywhere are angry and distressed.

The NPRC seized power when we needed a change of government. They promised to crush the rebels, wipe out corruption, straighten the economy, respect human rights and return the country to civilian democratic rule. We accepted their sugar-coated promises. We, the youths, were coopted to carry out voluntary work in the interest of the nation - street cleaning, decorating roundabouts, building historic monuments and painting murals. We wanted dearly to modernise our country. But a few months later some members of the NPRC started engaging in corruption. They also lacked basic skills and experience in politics and administration. They did not deliver their promises. Now the war has escalated. Hundreds of thousands have lost their homes and property. Thousands more have fled to seek asylum abroad. Hundreds are dying every week, in overcrowded displacement camps, from hunger and the lack of basic medical facilities.

To the NPRC, the RUF and others involved in this stupid war, I address the following questions: Are you fighting in the interest of the masses? Where are you leading us? When will you start rehabilitating the areas that you have destroyed? Who and what will be left to rule over after your orgy of destruction? How can we ever hope to attract investors to Sierra Leone? When can we start replanning the future? What you are doing makes no sense. If you love and care about your country, then stop the war. Come together so that we can plan for the future.

Martin Tarawally
(Former Bo District Scouts Leader)
London SE5

_________________

 


(An expatriate who returned home after spending 27 years in the country writes):
Congratulations on such a well put together information on what is happening in our beloved Sierra Leone. Knowing the place so well after 27 years hard work and sharing the day to day life of the people, I am saddened by news of regular killings, looting, burning of houses and displacement of between one-third and half of the population. Having worked in various towns in the South and East, I feel all the more for the people in their plight. Why the killing, the maiming, the burning and the looting? These lovable people simply want to go about their daily chores. 

I read with interest the letter from Ibrahim Deen Jalloh. I wonder if he is the same person with whom I was very friendly during my years in Pujehun. His wife Agnes is an elder sister of Julius Maada Bio (deputy Chairman) whom I knew as a Form 1 boy. He stayed with Ibrahim and Agnes. Common ground already to bring opposing sides to the conference table? If you find a way to extend my greetings to Ibrahim Jalloh and his wife, please do so. Julius Bio, too, should remember the care and attention he received in the Jalloh home in Old Town, Pujehun.

I believe truthful, factual and balanced views in Focus will help to bring about round-table talks which will benefit the country and its displaced people. Focus can help in no small way to be a means of peace-making and compromise. Please keep up the good work.

(Name and address supplied)
USA

____________________

 

Sankoh has flushed peasants from their homesteads
Recently I went home and lived with the victims of this rebel war in a refugee camp for one week - sharing their lives, interviewing them and listening to stories of their sufferings. I have seen victims with their fingers and ears chopped off, and mouths slit from ear to ear, etc., in Bo hospital. 

I was fortunate to see the exclusive TV footage showing life behind the rebel lines, in which Foday Sankoh talks and shows the guns his troops used to attack Bo and Kenema. Their targets were village folk who had fled into refuge in the big towns - and this man and his fighters stalked and attacked them! Sankoh has flushed peasant communities from their homesteads, so they cannot produce to feed their families. While they live in extreme squalor and deprivation, RUF fighters attack convoys bringing food to the swollen towns of Bo, Kenema, and Makeni. He is holding people to ransom. His fighters attacked Sierra Rutile and Sieromco and displaced thousands of employed Sierra Leoneans. He has dismembered the country. Yet he says he is a freedom fighter - fighting for whose freedom?

Previous interventions to remove governments of the day focused on Freetown - the seat of government - but left the rural areas in peace. Sankoh's idea is to unsettle the country people and leave the government intact. Does he expect the people whom his troops have harassed, killed, looted from and displaced to come out in throngs to salute him? To all Sierra Leoneans I have this to say:

Alas poor country,
Almost afraid to know itself!
It cannot be called our mother, but our grave. 
(Shakespeare's Macbeth)

Moussa Conteh
Milton Keynes, UK


PUBLISH .....AND BE DAMNED

Ambrose Ganda

This ban is a dangerous precedent
The recent ban imposed on 57 persons by Decree No 8 of the NPRC was wrong. It should be rescinded. If it is not, then the next civilian government should lift it as a matter of priority. In the free, open and democratic society towards which we are striving in Sierra Leone, no one should be deprived of the right to participate in public life except in exceptional circumstances prescribed by the law, or under the Constitution. The NPRC have no right to ban anyone from taking part in public life. They have neither the moral authority nor the legal basis to do so. The tenuous nature of the sovereignty of the NPRC government, acquired by the gun rather than the ballot box, cannot bind a future popular and legitimate parliament which wished to reverse their policies. Let us examine the case objectively:

1. These people were kept in prison for many months. Upon their release they were again placed under house arrest with the imposition of a ban on travelling abroad.

2. If there are charges that came out of the various Commissions of Inquiry, they should be brought before the courts. The defendants will no doubt take the opportunity to challenge the locus standi of these commissions, their legitimacy and procedures, and the validity of the substantive laws that they applied. If the NPRC has evidence of wrong doing let it present it in open court. If a case is established, the courts can then justifiably impose a fine but, hopefully, nothing else. Banning may only be permissible in the exceptional circumstance that the survival of the nation as a whole is imperilled. In which case, one is bound to ask whether the NPRC will impose a ban on Corporal Foday Sankoh and his commanders. The point I am making is that the NPRC have taken a sledge hammer to crack a nut. However unseemly the behaviour of these people might have been, banning them is not the answer.

3. The selective nature of the ban was patently unjust and manifestly oppressive against the victims. I have previously addressed the piecemeal and partial way in which commission reports were "doctored" to suit the preferences of certain NPRC members against some of the people they did not like, while others they wished to protect were treated less harshly and allowed, in some cases, to go free. (See State of Despair serialised in FSL Vol 1 Nos 2, 3 and 5.) 

4. It is undeniable that some of the ex Ministers and MPs who have now been banned misbehaved while in office but then the rules of parliament, in the absence of which, the courts, should have decided to what extent this was the case and, only then, mete out the punishment prescribed under the law.

5. It should not be forgotten that prior to the ban, arbitrary fines were imposed on these people and they were deprived of their personal freedoms for as long as the NPRC has been in power. Some have paid their fines. Others are struggling to do so. Now in heaven's name, how else are they supposed to support their families and dependants? The suffering and humiliation that they have endured has been more than adequate to teach them a lesson, if indeed that was the NPRC's objective. Some might say they have suffered enough already.

6. It is beyond doubt that their human rights have also been severely infringed. Some have been dispossessed to the extent that their relatives, friends and dependants have suffered in the process. This cannot be justified on any grounds in a country which wants to make a fresh start. Why punish the innocent for the sins of others?

7. If, as I have heard, the NPRC is contemplating issuing decrees to secure immunity for themselves from a future civilian government, I have got news for them! You cannot bind a new and sovereign parliament in the future otherwise it is not sovereign. The precedent of banning people from public life, for whatever improprieties they may have committed while in office, must be equally applicable to any member of the NPRC who may, in future, be adjudged to have committed any serious abuses in public office. Why should they, too, not be banned from public life? A precedent is only an antecedent measure waiting to be applied to a similar case.

8. Ultimately, the best sanction against wrong doing in public life is the decision of the electorate. The behaviour of the APC was totally reprehensible and I believe that most Sierra Leoneans hated them for what they did to our country. If any of these people stood elections tomorrow I want to believe that they would be rejected at the polls. But if the electorate, after all the hardship and oppression they experienced under these people, still prefer them - especially if they perceive the NPRC government that was supposed to correct their bad ways as having proved to be worse - then neither I who despised them all these years nor the NPRC or James Jonah can stop voters putting a tick against their names. The electorate should be allowed to pass judgment on them. That is democracy.

9. And here is a conundrum: Will the NPRC ban these people from secretly financing and putting up their nominees to register a party that is sympathetic to them? If as is widely believed certain members of the NPRC hierarchy are behind at least two of the parties that have been registered, what should stop the banned men and women - some of whom continue to control tremendous resources - from taking the same action to protect their own interests? It only goes to prove the futility of the ban.

Banning is a sign of intolerance and an admission of the weakness of your case. Some of us rightly believe that there are those in the NPRC government who have not behaved any differently from the majority of the people they have banned. Should they then be banned by the next government from holding any public office because of that? Personally, I think not but as it is they who have set the precedent, maybe they should be!
 

A calvacade of jokers
Never mind the rainy season but, all jokes apart, I feel that the silly season is upon us in Sierra Leone. I begin to wonder whether this is a country that takes itself really and truly seriously. Fancy the latest craze of registering a political party. I could not believe my eyes when the final tally of 17 parties was announced as having been registered to contest the forthcoming elections. The poor electorate still reeling from traumatic events of the last four years - you would not think we are in the throes of a wretched civil war - have been further confused not least because most of the choices on offer have long since passed their sell-by date. Some have been in government before, while others have occupied positions of national trust in which they clearly failed the country. So could someone out there please tell me what these people have to offer the masses in Sierra Leone today which they could not deliver when they had a chance 5, 10, 15 and (in the case of at least 5 of them) 20 years and more ago?

I know that democracy is all about choice but, forgive me, I think this one is of the choking kind. Looking down the litany of names that sponsored each of the registered parties, I felt as if I was confronted by devils with horns in a chamber of horrors. It may sound illusory but, believe me, there are real baddies among them - I know them! Of course they are not serious about it all. They are playing their little silly games all over again. They will use their parties as a bargaining base from which they can trade them off for the odd promise of a directorship here, an ambassadorship there, or the precious ministerial/ cabinet post -an exercise in creative opportunism. Most of them are not after power to change the quality of life for the masses but to dominate them and assert their own self importance.

I do not speak ill of those who are genuinely concerned but unfortunately, I believe, are misguided. They should have no truck with this calvacade of jokers. I am disappointed in their eagerness to throw their lot in as well. They really ought to know better but then how often people act so uncharacteristically when the expectations from them did not at all warrant it!

For those totally committed to the drive for peace, we must not be distracted now by their antics. I am confident that as the issues get clearer, we will move closer to the day when lasting peace can be established throughout the length and breadth of our country. When peace comes, I bet you, these jesters will have even more spectacular innovations to deploy for our entertainment. That's the way democracy works sometimes and we should not begrudge them. Just let us not take them too seriously! The problem with democracy is that it throws up all the debris to the top and the sieves are big enough to let all the dregs through ... again!

Why pick on the weak ones?
The news that Paul Kamara, editor of For di People and Vandy Kallon editor of the Weekly Echo were arrested last week for allegedly publishing information "helpful to the enemy" should not go unchallenged. It is unjustified. The NPRC will simply not accept that it has its own problems - some of them extremely grave. For example, it is not so much the fact that Kamara or Kallon published this "detrimental" piece of information in their papers but the question, who passed the information to them? They did not do a Watergate on the NPRC by breaking into military HQ to steal the offending piece of information. Someone high up, who is privy to classified military information, wishes to sabotage the efforts of our armed forces in their drive against the rebels. That is the bigger threat that needs to be addressed - tackling the leakage at source. The duty of both men is to inform their readers as long as they exercise restraint and are sufficiently aware of their responsibilities as citizens and journalists. Once they have satisfied themselves about the merits of their story, they are duty bound to inform their readers. Their judgement may be wrong but they do not deserve to be locked up. This idea that every time something is written or said that does not accord with NPRC sentiments warrants the arrest and detention of journalists is ludicrous and ought to be stamped out. It is the act of bullies who cannot rationalise the bases of their actions. Hopefully, by the time this edition of Focus comes out, Kamara and Vandy would have been freed to continue the precious task of informing the masses. The NPRC must release them now if it has not done so by then. _

NPRC surcharging the poor for rice
The NPRC secretariat in Bo has been running a racket on traders - charging Le1,000 for every bag of rice transported into the town. Traders in Bo were recently confronted by angry townspeople for the inordinate price they were charging for a bag of rice ranging between Le25,000 and Le30,000. Matters came to a head when truck loads of rice were intercepted on the Bo-Kenema highway following a tip-off that traders were moving rice from Bo to be sold in Kenema at the even higher price of Le32,000 per bagfort for those hell raisers in Sierra Leone - the RUF, the hawks in the NPRC, renegade marauding bands from the Sierra Leone Armed Forces and malcontents from the previous APC regime - to continue their kind of war on our people, unmindful of the depth of resentment and fear among innocent citizens. 



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