Sierra Leone


British abolitionists and philanthropists establish a settlement in Freetown for repatriated and rescued slaves. [1]


Freetown settlement becomes crown colony. [1]


Britain sets up a protectorate over the Freetown hinterland. [1]


The first diamond is found in Sierra Leone. [11]


Diamond production reaches significant levels. The colonial authorities conclude an agreement with De Beers' Sierra Leone Selection Trust (SLST), giving the company exclusive mining and prospecting rights over the entire country for 99 years. [11]


The SLST is permitted to establish a Diamond Protection Force. This is the beginning of the diamond industry's relationship with private security forces. [11] [12]


Diamond production reaches one million carats annually. [11]


Sir Milton Margai, leader of the Sierra Leone People's Party, appointed chief minister. [1]


The colonial authorities scrap SLST's nation-wide monopoly, confining its operations to Yengema and Tongo Field, an area of about 450 square miles. [11]


The colonial authorities introduce the Alluvial Mining Scheme, under which both mining and buying licenses are granted to indigenous miners. Many of these licenses come to be held by Lebanese traders who began to settle in Sierra Leone at the turn of the century. [11]

There are an estimated 75,000 illicit miners in Kono District - the heart of the diamond area - leading to smuggling on a vast scale, and causing a general breakdown of law and order. [11]


Diamond production reaches two million carats annually. [11]


Sierra Leone becomes independent under the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP). [1] [3]


Military coup deposes Premier Siaka Stevens' government. [1]


Siaka Stevens returns to power at the head of a civilian government following another military coup. A populist, he quickly turns diamonds and the presence of SLST into a political issue, tacitly encouraging illicit mining, and becoming involved himself in criminal or near-criminal activities. [1] [11]


Sierra Leone declared a republic, Stevens becomes executive president. [1]

Stevens creats the National Diamond Mining Company (NDMC) which effectively nationalises SLST. All important decisions are now made by the prime minister and his right hand man, a Lebanese businessman named Jamil Mohammed. [11]


New constitution proclaims Sierra Leone a one-party state with the All People's Congress as the sole legal party. War breaks out between supporters of the APC and SLPP in the Pujehim district. Rebellion is also linked to smuggling activities on the Liberian border. [1] [3]


From a high of over two million carats in 1970, legitimate diamond exports have now dropped to 595,000 carats. [11]


SLST sells its remaining shares to the Precious Metals Mining Company (PMMC), a company controlled by Jamil Mohammed. [11]


Major-General Joseph Saidu Momoh becomes president following Stevens's retirement. [1]


Momoh declares state of economic emergency. [1]

From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, aspects of Lebanon's civil war were played out in miniature in Sierra Leone. Various Lebanese militia sought financial assistance from their compatriots in Sierra Leone, and the country's diamonds became an important informal tax base for one faction or the other. This was of great interest to Israel, in part because the leader of the important Amal faction, Nabih Berri, had been born in Sierra Leone and was a boyhood friend of Jamil Mohammed. Following a failed (and probably phoney) 1987 coup attempt in Sierra Leone, Jamil goes into exile, opening the way for a number of Israeli "investors" with close connections to Russian and US crime families, and with ties to the Antwerp diamond trade. [11]


Legitimate diamond exports have now dropped to 48,000 carats. [11]


Start of civil war. Former army corporal Foday Sankoh and his Revolutionary United Front (RUF) begin campaign against President Momoh, capturing towns on border with Liberia. Britain denies Momoh's request for help fighting the rebels. [1] [3]

From the outset of the war, Liberia acts as banker, trainer and mentor to the RUF, although the Liberian connection is hardly new. With a negligible diamond potential of its own, Liberia's dealings in stolen Sierra Leone diamonds have been a major concern to successive Sierra Leone governments since the great diamond rush of the 1950s. [11]

What is different and more sinister after 1991 is the active involvement of official Liberian interests in Sierra Leone's brutal war - for the purpose of pillage rather than politics. By the end of the 1990s, Liberia becomes a major centre for massive diamond-related criminal activity, with connections to guns, drugs and money laundering throughout Africa and considerably further afield. In return for weapons, it provides the RUF with an outlet for diamonds, and does the same for other diamond producing countries, fuelling war and providing a safe haven for organized crime of all sorts. [11]

Joseph Momoh's search for new investors in the early 1990s is carried forward by the NPRC military government. With De Beers out of the picture, and with the disappointing and short-lived Israeli experience behind it, the government now begins to receive overtures from small mining firms, known in the business as "juniors". The three juniors most involved in Sierra Leone during the 1990s are Rex Diamond, AmCan Minerals and DiamondWorks. [11]

September - New constitution providing for a multiparty system adopted. [1]


President Joseph Momoh ousted in military coup led by Captain Valentine Strasser, apparently frustrated by failure to deal with rebels. They establish the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC). An NPRC offensive drives the rebels out of the diamond rich south east and into Liberia, where they receive support from Charles Taylors National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). Under international pressure, Strasser announces plans for the first multi-party elections since 1967. [1] [3]


The rebels regroup and intensify their attacks on rural villages, with an increasing number of civilian casualties. Nigerian troops arrive in Freetown. [3]


January - The NPRC increases its ranks, recruiting boys as young as 12. New soldiers are "sobels", soldiers by day and rebels by night, looting and pillaging towns and villages. [3]

September - Nigeria and Sierra Leone enter into a Mutual Defense Pact. [3]


January - The RUF overruns the Sierra Rutile and Sieromco Mines, hurting government revenues. [3]

February - RUF fighters advance towards the capital. [3]

Strasser requests further foreign assistance, initially from a group of former British Army Gurkhas. The Channel Islands-based Gurkha Security Group, despite their fearsome reputation, proves ineffective. They get off to a poor start, embroiled in a road ambush in rural Sierra Leone. The RUF kills their Canadian commander, Colonel Robert MacKenzie, and other troops. The 50 Gurkha soldiers departed soon afterwards. [14]

March - Strasser enters into a contract with the South African security firm Executive Outcomes (EO). EO begins training programs for the Sierra Leone Army. Army with EO air support retakes Moyamba. [3]

DiamondWorks and its newly aquired subsidiary, the UK based Branch Energy Ltd., have apparent, but much denied, close ties with both Executive Outcomes and UK mercenary firm Sandline. [11] [14] [15] [19] [21]

May - EO joins the Nigerian and Ghanaian troops in Freetown, driving the RUT back. [3]

June - UK company Branch Energy Limited secures the rights to the diamond mining project known as the Koidu Kimberlite Project. [6] [9]

December - EO moves into rural areas, taking back diamond mining areas. They work with the Kamajoh traditional militia, a local defense force, providing training and support. [3] EO's tactics are bloody and many civilians are hit. [19]


January - EO retakes the Sierra Rutile mine and fights with the Kamajohs against the RUF in its rural strongholds. [3]

Strasser ousted in military coup led by his defence minister, Brigadier Julius Maada Bio. [1]

February-March - Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of the SLPP elected president. Kabbah agrees to keep on EO and other mercenary groups. [1] [3] [14]

November - Peace accord signed with Sankoh's rebels. The RUF receive an amnesty and EO are required to leave following the establishment of a neutral monitoring group. EO are charging $(US)1.8 million per month for less than 100 personnel with 2 Russian helicopters and logistics. With IMP requirements pressing for government cuts, Kabbah renegotiates EO fees. [1] [3] [14]

DiamondWorks Ltd acquires all the mineral assets of Branch Energy Limited, including the Koidu Kimberlite Project. [6] [9]


January - EO officially departs Sierra Leone. [3]

After President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah terminates the security contract with Executive Outcomes after pressure from the International Monetary Fund, he is warned by an Executive Outcomes mercenary that in 90 days he will fall. Eighty-nine days later, Kabbah is ousted in a coup by Maj. Johnny Paul Koromah, a Sandhurst granduate who had been trained by Executive Outcomes. [13]

April - Britain and Sierra Leone sign an agreement regarding military training. [3]

May - President Kabbah deposed by army. Major Johnny Paul Koroma, in prison awaiting the outcome of a treason trial, leads the military junta - the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). Koroma suspends the constitution, bans demonstrations and abolishes political parties. There is extensive looting and killing. Kabbah flees to Guinea to mobilise international support. The Economic Community of West African States Ceasefire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) establishes control at the Hastings and Lungi Airports. The RUF orders its fighters to support the AFRC. AFRC assumes control of the Koidu mines. Approximately 1200 people (including 300 foreigners) are evacuated from Freetown. UN withdraw all staff. [1] [3]

June - A Nigerian attempt to oust the junta fails after Nigerian troops and 800 foreigners are trapped in a hotel, under seige. An ICRC representative negotiates their safe passage. On invitation of the AFRC, the RUF joins the junta as the "People's Party". US marines evacuate 1200 more people, including those from the hotel. The OAU condemns the coup and calls for the restoration of Kabbah. With the AFRC/RUF in control of Freetown, Nigeria brings in hundreds of troops. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopts a 3 point plan to persuade the junta to step down: dialogue, an embargo and if necessary force. 2,000 RUF fighters arrive in Freetown to support the AFRC. [3]

July - ECOWAS meets with AFRC/RUF to try to negotiate a return to constitutional rule. Unsuccessful, they impose an embargo on military supplies to the junta, while the Nigerians mount a naval blockade of Freetown. [3]

Tim Spicer of Sandline International provides intelligence services to Rakesh Saxena who has offered to finance a counter coup for Kabbah in return for diamond concessions. [14]

August - Anti coup student demonstrations in Freetown are violently suppressed. ECOWAS adopts sanctions on petroleum products, arms imports and international travel of AFRC/RUF leaders. [3]

October - The UN Security Council imposes sanctions against Sierra Leone, barring the supply of arms and petroleum products. A British company, Sandline, nonetheless supplies "logistical support", including rifles, to Kabbah allies. [1] [3]

ECOMOG and AFRC/RUF agree to restore Kabbah to office within six months. [3]

December - After discussions with the British High Commissioner, Penfold, reps. from Sandline meet with President Kabbah to discuss a military plan for restoring civilian rule. $1.5 million is paid to Sandline as a first instalment. [3] [14] [16]

DiamondWorks' Sierra Leone manager is seconded, as a "private citizen", to Sandline. [11]


Sierra Leone loses its only combat helicopter - a serious problem because the Soviet-built gunship has been the government's most effective weapon against the RUF. Zeev Morgenstern, Rex Diamond's Managing Director, and Serge Muller, the company's President, come to the government's aid by making an arrangement to supply engines, parts and ammunition worth US $3.8 million. The deal goes sour as a result of defective parts supplied from Russia. According to the Washington Post, Morgenstern and Muller have both said, "..the arms deals were unrelated to Rexs mining activities". [11]

January - Kamajoh militiamen, backed by Nigerian forces and with logistical support from Sandline, capture the diamond mining town of Tongo, depriving the AFRC of a large source of income. Fierce fighting errupts in Freetown. [3]

February - Nigerian-led West African intervention force ECOMOG storms Freetown and drives rebels out. Sandline are also involved in the operation, providing intelligence, logistical support and flying an attack helicopter. The British High Commissioner, Peter Penfold, was briefed on Sandline's plans in January having already been involved in discussions about their use in restoring Kabbah to power. [1] [14] [16]

March - The British Foreign office is implicated for alleged involvement in Sandline's plan to ship weapons to Sierra Leone in violation of the UN embargo. Bruce Walsham, CEO of DiamondWorks, shares the same office with Sandline, and two of his Board members were involved in the Sandline deal, but he insists that at no time did he know about the activity. [10] [11] [14] [17] British Navy personnel support Sandline, even repairing one of their helicopters for them. [21] [22] The US government apparently also knew about Sandline's activities. [13]

Kabbah is reinstated as president. The UN embargo on petroleum products is terminated, while Kabbah declares a state of national emergency. [3]

March-May - ECOMOG takes the last AFRC/RUF stronghold, the Kono district and by May has all provincial capitals under control. [3]

June - The UN arms embargo is lifted for ECOMOG and the government. [3]

July - ECOMOG captures Kailma and Kailahum, the location of RUF headquarters, but RUF forces evade capture and move north and west. A UNSC resolution establishes UNOMSIL as a 70 member observer force. [3]

August - The RUF threatens a terror campaign directed at civilians should Sankoh remain in government custody. [3]

October - Sankoh is sentenced to death for treason. [3]

Various mercenary groups, principally of British and US origin, work for different mining concerns, government and rebel forces. [20]

December - Foreign personnel are evacuated from Freetown as the security situation deteriorates. [3]


January - Rebels backing Revolutionary United Front leader Foday Sankoh seize parts of Freetown from ECOMOG. Massive destruction, loss of life and amputations take place in the eastern sector. After weeks of bitter fighting they are driven out, leaving behind 5,000 dead and a devastated city. [1] [3]

May - A ceasefire is greeted with cautious optimism in Freetown amid hopes that eight years of civil war may soon be over. [1] [3]

July - Six weeks of talks in the Togolese capital, Lome, result in a peace agreement, under which the rebels receive posts in government and assurances they will not be prosecuted for war crimes. Thousands of starving civilians and rebels emerge from the bush in search of food. [1] [3]

August - 10 UNOMSIL and 20 ECOMOG are kidnapped by "rebels". [3]

November-December - UN troops arrive to police the peace agreement, but one rebel leader, Sam Bokari, says they are not welcome. Meanwhile, ECOMOG troops are attacked outside Freetown. Kabbah forms his new cabinet including representatives of the RUF and AFRC. [1] [3]


January - A moratorium on diamond mining is announced, but rebels ignore it. MSF staff are kidnapped by the RUF's Sam Maskita Bockerie. [3]

February - UNHCR reports that rebel fighters continue to loot, rape and mutilate civilians. UNAMSIL is increased from 6000 to 11,000. [3]

May - ECOMOG withdraws from Sierra Leone. RUF rebels hold approximately 500 UN peacekeepers. After the shooting down of a UN helicopter, mass evacuation of foreigners begins. 30,000 protesters march toward Sankoh’s residence. UNAMSIL troops fire into the air, disperse the crowd and the RUF opens fire, killing 17 and injuring many more. Sankoh escapes his house and goes into hiding, but is captured, stripped, and paraded through the streets. Bodies suspected to be peacekeepers are found, raising concerns over the continued holding of hostages by the RUF. 467 of the peacekeepers abducted by the RUF are released; 258 still remain surrounded. [1] [3]

800 British paratroopers are sent to Freetown to evacuate British citizens and to help secure the airport for UN peacekeepers. [1] [18]

July - The UN Security Council imposes an embargo on the sale of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone. This is followed by measures on the part of the diamond industry to suppress illegal trade in “conflict diamonds”. [3]

August - Eleven British soldiers taken hostage by a renegade militia group called the West Side Boys. [1]

The UN Security Council adopts Resolution 1315 creating a special hybrid tribunal (international and Sierra Leonean involvement) to try those responsible for the most serious crimes. It also authorizes the creation of an independent special court to try crimes against humanity and war crimes. [3]

September - In a surprise attack, 150 members of the British Special Forces and parachute regiment free remaining British and Sierra Leonean hostages. [1] [3]


January - Government postpones presidential and parliamentary elections - set for February and March - because of continuing insecurity. [1]

March - UN troops for the first time begin to deploy peacefully in rebel-held territory. [1]

May - Disarmament of rebels begins, and British-trained Sierra Leone army starts deploying in rebel-held areas. [1]


January - War declared over. UN mission says disarmament of 45,000 fighters is complete. Government, UN agree to set up war crimes court. [1]

A report on the diamond industry is prepared for the Sierra Leone government at the behest of the UK government. [23]

May - Kabbah wins a landslide victory in elections. His Sierra Leone People's Party secures a majority in parliament. [1]

July - British troops leave Sierra Leone after their two year mission to help end the civil war. [1]


May - A bilateral agreement is signed with the US government, whereby neither signatory will hand over to the ICC nationals accused of crimes against humanity. [2]

July - Rebel leader Foday Sankoh dies of natural causes while waiting to be tried for war crimes. [1]

August - President Kabbah tells truth and reconciliation commission that he had no say over operations of pro-government militias during war. [1]


February - Disarmament and rehabilitation of more than 70,000 civil war combatants officially completed. [1]

Local people and the environment suffer from the effects of the Koidu Kimberlite Project run by South African (later Israeli) mining group Koidu Holdings. [7] They also suffer under the activities of the mining concern Sierra Rutile Limited, which still retains a private mercenary group. [8]

March - UN-backed war crimes tribunal opens courthouse to try senior militia leaders from both sides of civil war. [1]

May - First local elections in more than three decades. [1]

June - War crimes trials begin. [1]

September - UN hands control of security in capital over to local forces. [1]


August - UN Security Council authorises opening of a UN assistance mission in Sierra Leone from 2006, to follow departure of peacekeepers in December. [1]

December - The last UN peacekeeping troops leave Sierra Leone, marking the end of a five year mission to restore order. [1]


March - Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor is arrested in Nigeria and handed over to the war crimes court in Sierra Leone which indicted him. [1]

August - Date for elections set for July 2007. [1]

December - President Kabbah says 90% of the country's $1.6bn (£815m) debt has been written off after negotiations with international creditors. [1]


June - Start of former Liberian president Charles Taylor's war crimes trial in The Hague, where he stands accused of instigating atrocities in Sierra Leone. [1]

Sierra Leone's special war crimes court in Freetown delivers its first verdicts, finding three militia leaders guilty. [1]

August - Presidential and parliamentary polls. Ernest Bai Koroma wins the presidency and his All People's Congress, formerly in opposition, wins a majority in parliament. [1] [5] A report compiled for president Koroma shows that the country is riddled with corruption. [4]


January - Former Liberian president Charles Taylor's war crimes trial in The Hague resumes after a six-month delay. [1]