Sierra Leone

Ecowas Ministers Due To Visit Sierra Leone Today

Paul Ejime, PANA Correspondent
LAGOS, Nigeria (PANA) - Five foreign ministers of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) are due to visit Sierra Leone Wednesday (today), ahead of the reinstatement of elected President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, Nigerian defence spokesman Godwin Ugbo has said.

Kabbah was ousted May 25, 1997 by the now defeated Freetown junta led by Maj. Johnny Koromah.

Col. Ugbo told reporters Tuesday that the ministerial delegation from Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Liberia, to be led by Nigerian Foreign Minister Tom Ikimi, would assess the situation in Sierra Leone since West African forces routed Koromah's junta, Friday.

Sierra Leone has been the scene of week-long fighting between the multinational West African Peace Monitoring Group, Ecomog, and forces loyal to Koromah's junta.

The five countries make up the Committee on Sierra Leone, set up by the 16-nation Ecowas, to implement regional sanctions against the junta: notably a land, sea and air blockade to obtain a surrender.

In October 1997, the committee members and the junta signed a peace plan in Conakry, Guinea. But the plan was stalled by the junta's intransigence and eventual refusal to restor Kabbah to power.

This prompted the Nigerian led Ecomog offensive Feb. 5. The regional force, which said its initial drive was a retaliatory measure against the junta, finally captured Freetown after seven days of fighting and set the junta officials in flight.

Some of the junta have either been captured or have surrendered to Ecomog.

Ugbo did not comment on the diplomatic row between Nigeria and Liberia over the interception over Monrovia of helicopters carrying 25 fleeing junta officials, by Ecomog alpha jets.

Liberia called the action a violation of its territorial integrity and recalled its charge d'affaires from Lagos. Abuja reciprocated.

It was unclear Tuesday whether the Ecowas ministerial initiative would receive the support of Liberia, which has always opposed its territory being used as base by Ecomog for military action against the Freetown junta.

Last week, Ugbo accused Liberia of supporting the junta, before its capitulation to Ecomog. Monrovia denied that charge.

But Liberia's president, Charles Taylor, has had a long history of hostility to Ecomog which was first sent to Liberian in 1990 to end the seven-year civil war there started by Taylor.

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