ECOMOG – A Great Way Of Life
24 February 1999: ECOMOG troops and the Civil Defence Forces militia have pushed rebel forces out of Waterloo, ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukulade said on Wednesday. Waterloo is 18 miles from Freetown. “The battle to flush the rebels who had made bases in Waterloo Town and in the forest around the town started on Saturday. Yesterday, we were able to crush them finally and fully deploy in the town,” he said. “Our flushing of the rebels from Waterloo and the surroundings means Freetown is now safe, for the time being, from the threat of rebel attacks.” Olukulade said ECOMOG had used tanks and planes in the military operation, and had also captured Benguema, the site of a major military barracks. Radio France International reported Wednesday that ECOMOG was continuing to use Nigerian Alpha jet fighters to bomb the hills around Waterloo where rebel forces are believed to be located.
27 January: Fighting was reported Wednesday on the eastern edge of Freetown. ECOMOG task force commander Brigadier-General Abu Ahmadu said the force was targeting rebel hide-outs in the hills overlooking Kissy, Wellington, and Calaba Town. The Agence France-Presse (AFP) said Wednesday morning’s shelling was the most intense in three weeks of fighting in and around the capital. An ECOMOG spokesman said Guinean and Ghanaian ECOMOG troops advancing from Port Loko to the east had linked up with their Nigerian counterparts along the main road. He said the ECOMOG force would now concentrate their efforts on “flushing out” rebels from the nearby hills.
Fleeing residents told Reuters that several hundred rebels appeared to be in control of parts of the eastern suburbs, but that their numbers were increased by rebels who descended from the hills at night. Sustained small arms fire was also heard from the western edge of the capital, causing panic among residents. The spokesman said the shooting was from ECOMOG troops who had fired into the air during a search for rebel infiltrators at Juba Barracks, which houses soldiers of the disbanded Sierra Leone Army. Fighting in Freetown has created some 500,000 displaced persons in the city, Bishop George Biguzzi told the Italian Missionary Service News Agency (MISNA) . “The eastern sector of Freetown, where most of the heavy fighting took place in the last weeks, is the most critical considering it is also the poorest area of the city,” Biguzzi was quoted as saying.Spanish journalist Javier Espinosa was released on Wednesday, two days after he and French journalist Patrick Saint Paul were taken prisoner by AFRC/RUF rebels.
His released came after Saint Paul, who was freed on Monday, disclosed the contents of a rebel communiqué in a BBC interview. The rebels had demanded that their message be read over the BBC before they would release Espinosa. Espinosa told his newspaper, El Mundo, that only two of six Sisters of Charity nuns kidnapped last week were still alive. He said three of the nuns were killed in an exchange of fire between the the rebels and ECOMOG troops, and were buried in the hills near the rebel camp where he was held captive. A fourth nun was murdered on Friday. The rebels said they would kill the remaining two nuns if ECOMOG attacked their camp again.
26 JAN: ECOMOG bombarded suspected rebel positions overnight in the hills overlooking Kissy and in the wooded areas beyond Lumley before dawn on Tuesday. Shelling was also reported Monday night around around Calaba Town. ECOMOG officers said they were targeting “rebel infiltrators,” Reuters reported. The Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported “relatively little shooting” overnight, but said tension in Freetown remained high. A military source said ECOMOG troops were “moving south, and would start bombarding adjacent hills in the next 48 hours.” In conflicting reports, Reuters quoted medical staff at Connaught Hospital Tuesday as saying that the number of wounded arriving there had decreased substantially, while the AFP said wounded victims, many of them mutilated, continued to arrive at the city’s five hospitals.
The AFP, quoting hospital sources, reported more than 3,000 persons are known to have died during nearly three weeks of fighting between ECOMOG troops and AFRC/RUF rebel forces, with the final death toll expected to be much higher. No estimate of military casualties has been released.The Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Tuesday that some 60 people were killed Sunday in an attack on Waterloo. The number is based on reports by residents of 25 civilian deaths and a claim by Guinean ECOMOG sources that 35 rebels were killed during clashes in the town. Some 17 houses at Waterloo were reported to have been burned down. On Monday, ECOMOG said rebels were present at Wellington, but claimed to have surrounded the rebels on all sides. “We have blocked all known routes and are patrolling the coast,” said ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jimoh Okunlola, adding that rebel forces were caught between ECOMOG troops at Kissy and in Waterloo. Okunlola said the rebels’ supply lines had been cut and that they were running out of ammunition. ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Olukulade said Tuesday that neighbourhood vigilante groups which have sprung up in Freetown have the support of ECOMOG. “We encourage that but there should be orderliness. They should be organised enough to help ECOMOG in countering the movement of suspicious characters or likely rebels in the society,” he said in a radio broadcast.
25 JAN: President Kabbah on Monday appeared to rule out a political settlement of the Sierra Leone conflict for the time being. “Now there is only a military solution,” Kabbah said. “We have to push the rebels far, far from Freetown.” Kabbah made the pronouncement following talks with Nigerian Foreign Minister Ignatius Olisemeka and Chief of Defence Staff Air Marshall Al-Amin Daggash, who were in Sierra Leone to assess the military situation. Daggash said ECOMOG troops were making good progress in what he termed “open warfare.”
Referring to reports of rebels using civilians as human shields, Daggash added: “We are moving slowly towards the east because we don’t want to kill everybody.”The Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that intense fighting took place Monday between ECOMOG troops and AFRC/RUF rebel forces at Waterloo. Thousands of civilians were said to be fleeing toward the city centre from the eastern suburbs. In Kissy, the Safecon petroleum depot was reported to be on fire, according to a report by the pro-government Radio Democracy 98.1. Aid workers said they had registered 17,000 of an estimated 50,000 residents sheltering at the National Stadium. Throughout Freetown, members of the “Citizens Security Movement,” comprised of groups of neighbourhood civil defence units, manned checkpoints and conducted searches. Diplomatic sources said Monday that 140 rebels surrendered to ECOMOG Saturday at Tombo, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report.
JAN 23; ECOMOG sources said on Saturday that their troops were still encountering resistance from AFRC/RUF rebel troops in the eastern suburbs of Freetown, between Calaba Town and Kissy, an area overlooked by hills. ECOMOG task force commander Brigadier-General Abu Ahmadu said ECOMOG was searching for stragglers among the retreating rebels in the eastern suburbs, and were “shooting on sight” many rebels they encountered although they had captured about 200 adult rebels and a number of child combatants.. An ECOMOG spokesman indicate said the force was conducting house-to-house searches in Kissy, but indicated that the town had not yet been secured. “Once a place is swept we deploy soldiers. This has not been done in Kissy yet,” he said.
ECOMOG sources also reported that rebels had infiltrated the forest area on the western fringes of the city, beyond Lumley. Lumley residents heard the sounds of shelling beyond the town Friday night, and took to the streets with machetes and sticks after hearing reports of rebel sightings in the area, Reuters reported. ECOMOG confirmed it had shelled wooded areas to the west. President Kabbah, who spoke on Radio Democracy 98.1 late Friday, said that military operations by ECOMOG would continue beyond the weekend, and apologised for the continued presence of rebels in the capital two weeks after they first entered the city. The Missionary Service News Agency (MISNA) reported Saturday that about 100,000 displaced persons had arrived in Freetown, fleeing fighting in the areas of Calaba Town and Wellington “due to the ‘turn’ the conflict is taking and for fear of the eventual atrocities the rebel groups could commit while escaping.”
ECOMOG Lieutenant Colonel Chris Olukolade confirmed the exodus from the eastern suburbs of the capital. “People are so afraid that they’re willing to risk their lives to flee the area,” he said. “Rebels are making incursions along the main road before going back up to the hills,” Olukolade added, calling the rebels “afraid and thirsty for blood.” ECOMOG Major Kaya Tanko told London’s Independent newspaper, “We have secured 50 per cent of the eastern end of the city, but our problem is the hills above Kissy. The rebels are hiding there. They come down at night to attack civilians and loot and burn their homes.” MISNA said that while Sierra Leonean authorities were trying to tackle the emergency, “until now they have not found a way to provide food, water and shelter for the displaced. It is the mere beginning of a human catastrophe.”
JANUARY 22: ECOMOG officers said Friday that Nigerian fighter jets were attacking rebel strongholds in the mountains surrounding Freetown, while Nigerian and Guinean ECOMOG units were closing in on rebels trapped on the eastern fringes of the city. “(The rebels) have been devastated and (are) running in all directions,” said ECOMOG spokesman Colonel Chris Olukuoade. “We are now on phase two of the operation, which is cordon and search.” RUF commander Sam “Maskita” Bockarie told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) Friday that AFRC/RUF rebels planned to launch an attack to retake the capital. “We are changing our tactic and planning a surprise attack on Freetown,” he said, adding that despite their retreat the rebels “were still a strong fighting force.” Bockarie denied allegations that the RUF was receiving assistance from Liberia and Burkina Faso. He claimed that the rebels had purchased or captured their arms from ECOMOG. “The Nigerians in ECOMOG are selling us arms and ammunition. They are collaborating with us,” Bockarie said. He added that other weapons had been “seized from ECOMOG soldiers who were captured,” adding that had captured “250 ECOMOG soldiers so far.”
JANUARY 21; Heavy gunfire was heard throughout the day Thursday from areas southeast of Freetown. ECOMOG sources said they had encircled rebel forces, who were caught between Nigerian troops pursuing from Kissy, and by Guinean troops advancing from Hastings who had now linked up with Nigerian forces closing in from Waterloo. French helicopter pilots under contract to ECOMOG said armed men identified as RUF rebels had been spotted Wednesday in villages in the Songo area, but ECOMOG sources said the current offensive against rebel forces would keep them confined to the high ground of the peninsula. AFRC/RUF rebels re-entered the Ferry Terminal area of Kissy on Wednesday night, killing scores of people and mutilating many more, witnesses said. Minister of Health and Sanitation Dr. Ibrahim I. Tejan-Jalloh said rebels had hacked off the hands of at least 30 Freetown residents. Rachel Fallah, a Sierra Leonean employee of the United Nations Development Programme, told the Associated Press that the rebels had raped young girls and forced teen-age boys to carry goods looted from homes. She added that rebels were using women and children as human shields against the ECOMOG force.
JANUARY 19: Fighting continued to the south and east of Freetown Tuesday, as a seven-day unilateral cease-fire declared by the RUF for Monday was ignored. ECOMOG escorted journalists to Kissy, which ECOMOG task force commander Brigadier-General Abu Ahmadu said was recaptured on Monday. London Times journalist Sam Kiley confirmed Tuesday that ECOMOG had forced the AFRC/RUF rebels from their strongholds in the Kissy and Clinetown area, and had recaptured the strategic Queen Elizabeth Quay. Kiley reported that fighting was continuing at the Ferry Terminal, about a quarter of a mile from the main dock, where the rebels continued to resist. Guinean ECOMOG troops were advancing through Waterloo, which was now in ECOMOG hands, he added. ECOMOG task force commander Brigadier-General Abu Ahmadu said the “worst fighting” was taking place in southeast Freetown, at Foulah Town and Maeba.
The Agence France-Presse (AFP) said the current ECOMOG offensive began Monday near Hastings, along the main highway linking Freetown to the interior. Military sources told the AFP that ECOMOG intended to prevent the rebels from escaping along the highway into the interior, thus trapping them within the peninsula. The AFP also reported that an unknown number of rebels had retreated Monday into the hills around Freetown, near the western suburb of Aberdeen, toward Lumley, Goderich, and Lakka.London Times journalist Sam Kiley on Tuesday described scenes of devastation in Kissy, the scene of heavy fighting between the two sides. “Practically every single building in the Kissy suburb has been burned to the ground by the rebels, and at every street one crunches on spent cartridges,” he said. “There are very, very few people on the streets. The atmosphere is extremely tense. It’s overlooked by mountains where the rebels can look straight down into the town.
But in the west of town the streets are actually quite full of people, until the curfew at 3:00 when they disappear.” Reuters correspondent Jeff Koinange wrote of “streets strewn with corpses and…burned-out houses, shops and churches,” adding that both Holy Trinity Church on Kissy Road and the Eastern Police Station had been destroyed. Kiley said that while ECOMOG was now in control of strategic sites in Freetown, the rebels maintained bases in the hills surrounding the capital. “My understanding is the Kamajors are operating in those areas that they’re familiar with, but in general Freetown is now very largely back in the hands of ECOMOG,” he said.
Reuters reported that looters had replaced rebels at the port, “stealing food, drink, and anything else they could find” from warehouses, and, together with the threat of a rebel counter-attack, would further delay the arrival of emergency relief supplies. “We need security at the port for vessels and cargoes, we need trucks and diesel, and we need security for them to get to distribution points in the city,” one aid source said. “Before that we’ll need to send our own assessment teams in.” ECOMOG task force commander Brigadier-General Abu Ahmadu told reporters that Nigerian ships bring reinforcements and supplies were due to dock on Tuesday. “Any other ships waiting to use the port can do so as it is now safe,” he said. Ahmadu said Fourah Bay College, atop Mount Aureol, was also recaptured on Tuesday. He said the rebels had defended the “strategic site” with mortars and anti-aircraft guns.Telephone service has been restored to Freetown, ten days after the telephone system was disabled during heavy fighting in the capital between AFRC/RUF rebels and ECOMOG troops.
18 January: The sound of sustained heavy artillery and mortar fire erupted in Freetown’s western side Monday, indicating that AFRC/RUF rebels have penetrated the area for the first time since fighting began in the capital on January 6. The sounds of gunfire came mostly from the neighbourhood of Cockerill, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported, adding that “reliable sources” said the rebels were heading north along Lumley Road. A Nigerian ECOMOG officer said the rebels had regrouped in the hills overlooking Aberdeen and the Wilberforce Military Barracks before infiltrating the Westend.
Clouds of smoke surrounded the barracks, the AFP said. An ECOMOG helicopter, its guns aimed at the ground, circled around Cockerill, where ECOMOG has its headquarters, making sorties to Lungi International Airport and a heliport at a nearby hotel. A Nigerian officer confirmed that fighting was still continuing at Hastings, east of Freetown. Earlier Monday, most of Freetown was reported calm, although residents reported hearing sporadic heavy gunfire overnight from Kissy, where AFRC/RUF rebels continued to offer resistance.
Deputy Defence Minister Sam Hinga Norman, quoted Monday by BBC correspondent Prince Brima, said in respect of a cease-fire declared by the RUF that the government would not only insist on the cease-fire, but would prevent the rebels from moving into any areas they do not currently control. Norman said the government would observe the cease-fire as long as they were not attacked, but if the rebels did attack they would defend themselves. The unilateral cease-fire was to have taken effect Monday at 6:00 p.m. Witnesses were unable to confirm Monday whether it had gone into effect. ECOMOG has not committed to the cease-fire, but said it would step up its offensive against the rebels if the RUF did not stop firing. “If these rebels do not observe this cease-fire, we’re going all the way,” and ECOMOG officer said. Said Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe: “The operational situation is progressing very fast. We have secured the Port of Kissy in the far east of the city.” RUF spokesman Omrie Golley repeated Monday that the RUF cease-fire was still scheduled to take effect at 6:00 p.m.
“When the RUF gives an assurance, particularly in these instances, it sticks to them,” Golley said. He told the BBC he expected the government to use the cease-fire “to really think about their position and enter into a political dialogue to effect peace and reconciliation in our country and to join the process…We want peace, and we want ultimately national reconciliation in our country. I would urge the international community and President Kabbah to basically take this situation as, maybe, a step forward, a good step forward, as a window for peace.” Golley warned that “from past experience” the RUF was in a strong position militarily should the cease-fire fail. “But what we should not be doing is continually talking about military, military, military situation. What we should be talking about now is how we are going to bring peace and national reconciliation in our country,” he said. RUF commander Sam “Maskita” Bockarie said he thought ECOMOG would ignore the cease-fire because “they do not want to share control of Freetown” with the rebels. “We are ready… If they do not respect (the ceasefire), then we won’t either,” he said. “If we are attacked, we will reply.”
17 January: Fighting between ECOMOG troops and AFRC/RUF rebels continued to the east of Freetown on Wednesday. London Times journalist Sam Kiley reported that the sounds of tanks and heavy artillery could be heard from around the university area, where “rebels are believed to be using a disused quarry and caves around there for cover.” The number of casualties in the city since the onset of the fighting has been conservatively estimated at 2,000, the BBC and the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Sunday. The number is expected to rise on account of the number of injured, starving children, and because of the lack of medical care. Fires started by the rebels which have destroyed key installations, and reportedly even whole streets, coupled with damage from ECOMOG bombing raids, have left the city badly damaged.
ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said Sunday that re-establishing complete control over Freetown was a matter of “a few days,” but he acknowledged that “urban warfare creates a lot of difficulties.” He said bands of RUF rebels, often teenagers carrying assault rifles, and snipers on rooftops posed a threat which ECOMOG needed “better and more efficient means” to counter. He said the Nigerian Alpha fighter jets used by ECOMOG were too rapid, and said the force required helicopters, light arms, more communications equipment, and a commitment from other ECOWAS countries to contribute troops to the ECOMOG force. “We’re now organising civil defence,” Shelpidi added. He said the rebels, who had been prevented from getting back to the interior of the country, were now in the forested hills overlooking Freetown. “The worst thing is that the rebels change their clothes all the time,” said a Nigerian major. “One minute, they’re on the street in jeans and t-shirts, like you or me; the next they’re in stolen ECOMOG battle dress.”
Freetown was reported calm on Sunday morning, Reuters reported. Saturday night was reported generally quiet, although distant bombardments could occasionally be heard from the east. The news service described Freetown as a “disaster area,” with bodies littering the streets. At Connaught Hospital, a few local doctors with almost no medicine attempted to care for the sick and wounded, while dogs and vultures disturbed bodies piled in the hospital driveway. “The hospital is in a dire situation right now. There are over 80 war wounded requiring all kinds of medical help, and we just do not have the means to assist them,” said surgeon Dr Johnston Taylor. “There are bodies littered everywhere, unattended as well. We are appealing for any kind of help and assistance that we can get.” Most aid agencies evacuated their personnel to Conakry following the AFRC/RUF rebel attack on Freetown. Five expatriate staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), including a Dutch battle surgeon, were expelled by ECOMOG last week without explanation. On Friday, ECOMOG ordered non-government organisations and United Nations agencies to hand over their communications equipment, further hampering humanitarian operations.
JANUARY 14: ECOMOG has enlisted the help of Nigeria’s 72nd Airborne Regiment to help fight AFRC/RUF rebel forces who have withdrawn to the hills around Freetown, according to a “senior source” in ECOMOG. “Last time we made the mistake of not going all the way, this time we’re going to finish the job,” the source said. He said the regiment would arrive in Freetown on Thursday afternoon.
11 JAN: There was renewed heavy fighting between ECOMOG troops and AFRC/RUF rebels in the central part of Freetown on Monday, Reuters reported, quoting witnesses. The BBC and Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that there had been heavy casualties on both sides, and said rebels had used non-combatants as human shields, resulting in civilian casualties. At Lungi International Airport, numerous ECOMOG casualties were brought in, while journalists and a pilot who had flown over the city reported seeing many uniformed bodies lying in the streets. “There is continued shelling and gunfire from the central district. It started around 9.00 a.m.,” one witness said.
BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle reported that the rebels had set fire to Freetown. “Whole streets have been burnt down,” he said. “The United Nations military headquarters has been burnt down, the roof collapsed. As a result it’s completely destroyed. Other buildings, government buildings, have been set on fire by the rebels, and it seems that what they can’t have they’re going to destroy.” A local journalist who walked on Monday morning through parts of the city behind ECOMOG lines, including Tengbeh Town, Brookfields, Congo Cross, and Pademba Road, said many houses had been burned. From a distance, he said, he could see the telephone exchange (SLET) and the City Hall on fire, while a thick cloud of smoke hung over the city, obscuring some buildings.
The ECOMOG force said Monday it was gradually regaining control of the city. While claims of who controls various parts of Freetown are difficult to confirm independently, Doyle said ECOMOG appeared to be making advances. “I do know though that the Nigerian-led forces have entered an area, quite an important area of the city, where they weren’t yesterday, and the Nigerians say that they are advancing, and that certainly does appear to be the case,” he said. ECOMOG commander Major-General Timothy Shelpidi said his troops had secured the port and State House, and were pushing the rebels southeast towards “Kissy, Wellington, and Calaba Town.” The AFP reported that Nigerian Alpha fighter jets made continuous sorties from Lungi on Monday, while helicopters ferried in ECOMOG and Kamajor reinforcements and evacuated casualties. The government’s spokesman, Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer, claimed that ECOMOG had retaken the central part of the city reached the eastern parts of the capital. “They should have gone past the Cline Town roundabout and probably are now in the Kissy area,” he said. Spencer acknowledged that ECOMOG had met stiff resistance from rebel forces at Kingtom, Brookfields, Tengbeh Town, and Pademba Road.
9 JAN: Witnesses reported Saturday seeing large numbers of wounded soldiers being evacuated by helicopter from Freetown to the ECOMOG base at Lungi International Airport. “I saw 60 or 70 wounded ECOMOG men evacuated. They looked like fresh injuries,” one witness told Reuters. The casualties provided evidence of heavy fighting between ECOMOG troops and rebel fighters for control of the capital. Nigerian Alpha fighter jets took off from Lungi to attack rebel positions. Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer told the BBC that an ECOMOG counter-offensive had made advances in Freetown Saturday. “So as of now, ECOMOG troops are in the center of the city, clearing the rebels out of that part of the city. In fact they’re already moving toward the eastern part of the city,” he said. He added that “the rebels are in disarray. They’re fleeing.” Spencer said he was unable to give an assessment of civilian casualties in the fighting. “I don’t think it has been high, because ECOMOG has tried to be very careful. But the casualties are those caused really be rebels, because they’ve gone to knock at people’s houses, pulled people out of their houses, shot them dead.”
News accounts have emphasized civilian casualties resulting from bombardments by Nigerian Alpha jet fighters attached to the ECOMOG force. Spencer denied, however, that the government was planning a final counter-offensive to defeat the rebels. “The government has said we are prepared to adopt the multi-track or dual-track approach: dialogue and military force,” he said.News agencies gave varying reports of the fighting on Saturday. The AFP, quoting witnesses, spoke of a “precarious calm,” in Freetown Saturday morning, with deserted streets and few direct clashes between rebel and pro-government troops. “(Friday) night was quiet, and ECOMOG’s Alpha jets were not seen early Saturday,” the AFP said.
The Associated Press (AP) reported that artillery fire pounded Freetown Friday night and Saturday morning, and said heavy street fighting took place Saturday near Wilberforce Barracks and in Congo Town. The AP described Nigerian ECOMOG jets screaming over Freetown, “firing rockets into rebel-held territory.” The report said Alpha jets circled the capital for about an hour searching for groups of rebel fighters, while platoons of ECOMOG soldiers patrolled near-empty streets in the West End and artillery was fired at rebel positions in the hills to the south. Reuters described smoke rising from burning buildings in the east of the city after strikes by ECOMOG Alpha jets “which screamed low over the dilapidated city.”
The Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) said rebels and pro-government troops engaged in heavy fighting on Saturday, with ECOMOG claiming successes on Saturday evening. Artillery fire pounded Freetown through Friday night and there were unconfirmed reports Saturday that Wilberforce Barracks was under attack by AFRC/RUF rebels. Reuters reported that smoke could be seen billowing from burning buildings in the rebel-held areas of the capital. “We can see burning buildings in the eastern district but the rest of the city looks calm,” a Reuters television journalist said. “A handful of people are stepping out cautiously to assess the damage in the streets. There is no traffic on the roads.” The Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) quoted witnesses as saying that rebel forces were firing on Wilberforce Barracks and that ECOMOG troops stationed there were returning fire. The DPA quoted residents as saying that numerous houses were burning in the rebel-held east of the city, and noted “partly unconfirmed reports” that Kamajor militiamen were engaging the RUF in street battles.
6 JAN: AFRC/RUF rebel forces battled their way into Freetown on Wednesday, and according to many reports have seized State House and burned down the nearby Nigerian Embassy, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) headquarters, and the capital’s main police station. Rebel fighters, many carrying assault rifles, roamed through abandoned streets in the city centre. “Districts in the Eastend of Freetown are under control of the rebels. We can see them from our windows patrolling the streets on foot and in looted vehicles,” one resident told Reuters. Others reported that bodies were lying in the streets while rebels prepared defensive barricades.
BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay described the fighting: “The firing at one stage, the shelling at one stage, was actually very heavy,” he said. “They burnt down the CID, they burnt down Eastend Police, and a popular place called Picadilly at St John has also been destroyed.” He confirmed reports that rebel forces had captured Pademba Road Prison and released the prisoners, many of them former members of the AFRC government convicted of treason or awaiting trial on treason charges, along with surrendered solders of the former Sierra Leone Army whom the government feared posed a security risk. “Yes, yes, that was one of their first actions when they entered Freetown,” he said. “When they came into Freetown they simply marched into Pademba Road Prison with no resistance from ECOMOG and set free all of those detained there.”At 2:30 p.m. the BBC spoke to a “Colonel Sesay” who claimed to be in State House where, he said, the rebels had “overthrown the SLPP government.” State House is not currently used for governmental affairs, which are conducted from the “The Lodge” at Hill Station. Sesay said AFRC/RUF fighters had met no resistance from ECOMOG as they entered the city, and he claimed that rebel forces, which he put at “15,000 armed men,” controlled nearly all of Freetown. He told the BBC that the rebels were engaged in a battle for Wilberforce Barracks. “I can’t talk it to you now, the battle is going on. Someone has just told me they have captured, they have captured, the main office, that is the holding room and the guard room,” he said.
Sesay’s claims were sharply disputed by Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer. “This fellow is lying,” he said. “And he also said they’ve captured Wilberforce Barracks. That was a blatant lie. It’s a lie. I’ve been to Wilberforce Barracks, I’ve been to State House. And I’m actually talking to you now from Wilberforce Barracks. I’ve been to State House earlier in the day. They are not there.” Spencer acknowledged that the rebels held parts of Freetown, including the Pademba Road area, Brookfields, and Ferry Junction. He claimed many of the rebels were hiding, because they were being pursued, and predicted that the rebel onslaught would be ended before nightfall. “You see they are going to be thrown out completely, not just from Freetown. In the areas which they attacked, in Makeni, the northern part, they are also going to be thrown out…You see, the real issue is that the people of Sierra Leone have said they want a democratic government. Nobody should think that they can come and overthrow a government by force of arms and take control of the country — that is out of the question!”
BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay confirmed that rebel forces had reached the city centre, although he could not say whether they had occupied State House. “I cannot again confirm whether they are in fact in charge of State House,” he said. “What I can tell you is that they are occupying several houses very close to State House. I have spoken to one or two friends of mine who have called me on the phone telling me that the rebels have actually occupied their homes, which is just about a stone’s throw to State House.” Ojukutu-Macaulay said it appeared fighting was going on for control of Wilberforce Barracks. “By the sound of the shelling, I think that either ECOMOG is trying to push them away or the junta and the rebels are trying to force their way into the barracks.” The BBC correspondent noted that the rebels had met very little resistance when they attacked, “and that has taken a lot of people by surprise here in Freetown.”A source in Freetown reported Wednesday night that Wilberforce Barracks had not come under attack. He said the fighting which was reported took place at Congo Cross Bridge, near the stadium, when ECOMOG troops clashed with rebels to prevent them from releasing surrendered soldiers. “The barracks are safe, nothing is going on,” he said by telephone from near the barracks themselves. He added that ECOMOG troops were pursuing rebels in Freetown.
RUF commander Col. Sam “Maskita” Bockarie, claiming to be “just within around Freetown” said he was confronting ECOMOG with a force of 30,000 men, but told the BBC that ECOMOG soldiers should “stay calm, cease fire” so that the rebels could “negotiate their repatriation.” He said his fighters had the ECOMOG troops at Wilberforce Barracks surrounded, but that the rebels were holding off on attacking the ECOMOG base at Lungi. “Lungi Airport is just an outlet, that’s why we decided to just leave it open for awhile for those foreign nationals to leave. As soon as they leave, we’ll be ready to take Lungi,” he said. Bockarie warned that members of the civilian government had 24 hours to leave the country or turn themselves over to the rebels. “Anyone who is caught after that, he is going to be dealt with militarily,” he said. The rebel leader said he thought President Kabbah had already left the capital, a claim disputed by Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer and Minister of Finance, Development and Economic Planning Dr. James O.C. Jonah.
In a separate interview with Reuters, Bockarie said his forces had captured most of Freetown, including the broadcasting station, but that fighting was continuing at Waterloo. “We even have the seaport. Fighting is at Waterloo now, and we are trying to get rid of the elements (of ECOMOG) that are putting up stiff resistance there,” he said. Bockarie said the rebels would agree to a ceasefire once RUF leader Corporal Foday Sankoh were handed over to them. Sankoh was reportedly transferred from Pademba Road Prison to an undisclosed location prior to the rebel advance. “If Sankoh is released and handed over to us we are ready to cease fire. And we will see to it that we can secure the repatriation of these Nigerian soldiers, because they are our brothers,” he said, adding that “the leader will tell the nation what next.”
Bockarie appealed to Nigerian leader General Abdulsalami Abubakar to release Sankoh to the RUF. “We are appealing to our big brother, his Excellency General Abubakar, we are appealing to him to instruct his commanders to turn our leader over to me,” Bockarie said. Nigerian leader General Abusalam Abubakar, ECOWAS Executive Lansana Kouyate, and services chiefs of the Nigerian Armed Forces met Wednesday to discuss the security situation in Sierra Leone. There was no word on details of their discussions.Sierra Leone’s High Commissioner to Nigeria, Joseph Blell, was in Abuja Wednesday to hold consultations with senior Nigerian officials. Blell said he hoped to meet with defence and government officials on Thursday to discuss the situation in Freetown. He described reports as “scanty” and “confused”, but said he hoped to discuss possibilities for action with Nigerian officials.ECOMOG officials maintained Wednesday that they were in control of Freetown. “We do have this under control and there is no way they can hold their ground,” said a Nigerian ECOMOG officer at Lungi.
Radio Democracy 98.1 broadcast only music for much of the morning, but Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer has made frequent broadcasts since then. “ECOMOG will deal with the rebels decisively,” he said. Residents reported that rebels held the east end and parts of central Freetown while ECOMOG units patrolled the west end of the capital. Radio Democracy 98.1 announced that the curfew has been moved up an hour, so that residents must now be off the streets by 6:30 p.m. instead of 7:30. “Anybody found in the streets will be shot on sight,” the radio warned, adding “ECOMOG is warning all civilians behind rebel lines to heed this warning and not to get involved with the rebels.” Minister of Trade, Industry and Transportation Alie Bangura said that ECOMOG troops had been hampered by fleeing residents. “When the rebels tried to penetrate Allen Town, many civilians took to the streets. That is why it became difficult for ECOMOG to prevent the rebels from entering,” he said. “If ECOMOG encounters any group in streets, whether civilian or rebel, it will open fire,” he warned.
United Nations personnel left Freetown on Wednesday as the security situation in the capital deteriorated. Members of the United Nations Military Observer Force (UNOMSIL), along with U.N. Special Representative to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo, left Freetown by air from Lungi International Airport. Okelo confirmed that their destination was Conakry, Guinea. “We can’t guarantee the security here anymore,” he said. Asked about the state of fighting between ECOMOG troops and rebels in Freetown, military observer Col. Andre Bobylev replied, “It’s difficult to say. It’s war.” A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said seven motorised boats had arrived in Conakry on Wednesday carrying 120 persons fleeing the fighting.
BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle reported Wednesday that several government ministers, including Minister of Finance, Development and Economic Planning Dr. James O.C. Jonah, were at the ECOMOG base at Lungi International Airport. “I’m told by people here at the airport that there are several ministers,” Doyle said. “I don’t know if they’ve taken refuge or what, but this is obviously one of the safest places in Sierra Leone for the government for the time being. And yes, Dr. Jonah is certainly here, but I wouldn’t like to characterize him as taking refuge. But he is putting a very confident face on things.”AFRC/RUF rebel forces entered Freetown from the Eastend District early Wednesday and pushed to within a mile of the city centre before being turned back by ECOMOG troops, Reuters reported on Wednesday. A two-hour barrage on the Eastend beginning at 1:30 a.m. sent thousands of residents fleeing at dawn toward the center of the capital, Reuters said, adding that the sound of bombardments subsided after two hours but began again sporadically.
The Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported that the latest fighting began an hour after midnight, and said the rebels which included soldiers of the disbanded Sierra Leone Army engaged ECOMOG troops in heavy fighting. The BBC cited reports that the rebels were moving in from hills overlooking Freetown. ECOMOG used artillery and Alpha fighter jets in an attempt to halt the rebel advance. The rebels burned down a police station and briefly broadcast from a private radio station until an ECOMOG bombardment put it off the air. Radio Democracy 98.1 warned residents to keep off the streets, but said ECOMOG was in “complete control.” It promised an announcement on the situation shortly. Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer, in a BBC interview, told people to stay at home. “Anyone found on the streets will be considered as a rebel,” he said. “Rebels have entered the east end of town and there is a bit of panic…The situation is very serious but it is going to be dealt with.” Spencer said ECOMOG troops had found it difficult to engage the rebels because they had been mixing with the crowd. He said the government had no plans to flee the capital, but called developments “a disaster for Sierra Leone and the Sierra Leone people,” adding: “Apparently this is happening and the rest of the world is standing by and watching.”
BBC West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle said the latest fighting in Freetown did not necessarily mean the rebels have broken through the government’s main defences, or that the government itself was threatened. He said that strategically important points in the city, such as the airport, were being defended by thousands of government and ECOMOG troops. Members of the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday condemned outside support for rebels fighting the government in Sierra Leone, Council President Ambassador Celso Amorim said on Wednesday. Amorim said Council members expressed their strong support for President Kabbah and for the efforts of ECOWAS and its military arm, ECOMOG, to bring peace to Sierra Leone. “Council members strongly condemned penetration of rebel forces in Freetown and also condemned the support for the rebels from abroad,” said Amorim. “Council Members strongly condemned rebel activities in Freetown. They expressed support for diplomatic efforts, particularly regional ones, to restore peace and security in Sierra Leone.The British Foreign Office has condemned rebel efforts to overthrow the Sierra Leone government, while urging the 50 estimated British nationals remaining in Sierra Leone to leave as soon as they could safely do so. “We condemn the rebel efforts to overthrow by force the legitimate government of Sierra Leone and atrocities that they have committed against innocent civilians,” a Foreign Office statement read. “We will work with the international community to restore peace and democracy to Sierra Leone.” The statement added that Foreign Secretary Robin Cook had been in touch with “key allies” to rally support for the government
5 JAN: More than 100 AFRC/RUF rebels were killed Sunday in bombing raids by Nigerian Alpha jet fighters which bombed their mountain cave stronghold in Mankey, near Hastings, an ECOMOG officer said on Tuesday. “We flattened the cave and killed more than 100 rebels on Sunday,” said the officer, who was based at the Jui military garrison. Civilian survivors of Sunday’s rebel attack on Hastings and Jui said ECOMOG killed more than 200 rebel fighters. Reporters who were allowed into Hastings on Tuesday said that the rebel force, thought to have numbered more than 1,000, had completely overrun the town. ECOMOG sources said that many of the rebels wore civilian clothing and had infiltrated past Hastings.
A witness told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that after the first attack on Hastings, the rebels had split into two groups, one comprised of renegade Sierra Leone Army soldiers, and the other of RUF fighters.United Nations sources said Tuesday that AFRC/RUF rebels still control Makeni, which they captured from ECOMOG last week. “The rebels have conscripted thousands of able-bodied men and women in Makeni and are training them to fight,” a U.N. source said. “They are patrolling Makeni in jeeps and on foot, stopping people from fleeing the town.” Makeni residents who have reached Freetown have given accounts of summary executions of those believed to support the civilian government of President Kabbah. “They have shot dead government workers, local politicians and business people,” one witness told Reuters.
4 JAN: AFRC/RUF rebels attacked Hastings Air Field early Monday morning, according to ECOMOG spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jimoh Okunlola. “The rebels attacked Hastings at about 3:00 a.m. this morning, but we have now beaten them back into the hills around the town,” Okunlola said. He added that ECOMOG, backed by the Civil Defence Forces, was mopping up the area around Hastings. Okunlola said “dozens” of rebels were killed in the attack. He gave no casualty figures for pro-government forces. The rebels attacked their air field on December 31, burning ten buildings including, according to Liberian Star Radio, the newly-refurbished police training school and several private residences. Two planes used for shuttle flights were also reportedly destroyed. The fighting closed the airport, which had been due to reopen on Monday.
Renewed fighting between ECOMOG and AFRC/RUF rebels is taking place at Calaba Town, BBC correspondent Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay reported on Monday. “Details are very hard to come by from ECOMOG, but when I drove down to Calaba Town this afternoon, which is now the frontline, I was told by both eyewitnesses and police officials that the fighting started round about 10 p.m. last night,” Ojukutu-Macaulay said. “When I contacted ECOMOG and the Minister of Information (Dr. Julius Spencer) when I returned back to Freetown, I was told that ECOMOG and the civil defense forces are on the offensive at Pawpaw Valley, which is 16 miles to Freetown, and also at Miami Hills, another location very close to Hastings. They say that ECOMOG is on the offensive.” He quoted ECOMOG officials at Calaba Town as saying that ECOMOG was in control of Hastings and Waterloo, but that the rebels were off the road in the bush.
Ojukutu-Macaulay said reports reaching Freetown on Sunday night indicated that ECOMOG was now in control of Port Loko after four days of heavy fighting.ECOMOG has launched a counter-offensive against AFRC/RUF rebels occupying the town of Lunsar, U.N. Special Representative to Sierra Leone Francis Okelo said on Monday. The BBC reported that Nigerian Alpha jets strafed rebel positions around the town.ECOMOG tightened security in and around Freetown Monday as schools reopened in the capital, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. “We have effectively thrown a security dragnet around the capital and residents need not have any fear,” an ECOMOG official said.
ECOMOG troops are reportedly targeting the area of Kossoh Town, where they believe AFRC/RUF rebel fighters are trapped and cut off from their rear base. Kamajor militiamen are posted in the hills near Charlotte, Bathurst, Regent, and Gloucester, “searching vehicles and combing the bush for rebels,” the AFP reported. The road between Freetown and Masiaka, closed the past two days because of rebel attacks, is now open to traffic truck drivers said on Monday. Nigerian ECOMOG troops have retaken Port Loko and halted the AFRC/RUF rebel advance toward Freetown, an ECOMOG spokesman said Monday. The Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported that ECOMOG troops are now in a position to mount a counter-offensive to drive rebel forces from other towns they occupy north and west of the capital.
1 January: ECOMOG troops have driven AFRC/RUF rebels from Port Loko, an ECOMOG spokesman said on Friday. “We inflicted heavy casualties on the rebels in our air and ground operations to flush them out of Port Loko,” the spokesman said. “Our war jets massacred them as they moved truckloads of more men to reinforce the positions they had taken in the town.” Minister of Information, Communication, Tourism and Culture Dr. Julius Spencer and residents who fled the fighting confirmed that ECOMOG was in control of Port Loko with the help of thousands of Civil Defence Forces militiamen.
Spencer said Lunsar was still under rebel control. Chief of Defence Staff Brigadier-General Maxwell Khobe said Friday that many soldiers of the former Sierra Leone Army had defected to the rebels, while others had shown little willingness to fight. “Apart from the outright betrayal, others had demonstrated some high degree of cowardice in battle, leaving the allied forces, ECOMOG and the civil defense forces to do battle against the AFRC/RUF rebel fighters,” Khobe told soldiers at Lungi who were being retrained to join a new national army. “The episode has posed a great challenge to the existence of the Sierra Leone army in the near future, Khobe said. “”It would require extraordinary effort … to redeem the image of the Sierra Leone soldiers. Those of us who are committed to peace in Sierra Leone are totally embarrassed.”
31 December 1998: 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 from 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.
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.
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.
DECEMBER 24: 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.
DECEMBER 23:: 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 in the city. So if such information is received, ECOMOG will take decisive action.”
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.