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Sierra Leone Fills Cabinent Posts

March 3, 2001

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) _ Sierra Leone’s president announced Saturday that opposition members will fill several key Cabinet positions that have been vacant since the arrest of rebel officials last year.

The appointments, announced on state radio, come as President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah begins a six-month extension to his five-year term in office. A final date for elections has not been set.

Sierra Leone’s parliament declared the term extension last month, reasoning that Sierra Leone’s fragile security situation made it impossible to hold fair elections immediately in the war-ravaged West African nation.

The new Cabinet members were not rebels or rebel sympathizers.

Osman Kamara, an outspoken parliamentary opposition member, will serve as minister of Trade and Industry. His predecessor, Mike Lamin of the rebel Revolutionary United Front, was imprisoned last May following an apparent advance by rebel fighters toward Freetown and outlying towns.

Opposition member Chernor Jalloh and longtime civil servant Bobsan Sesay were appointed, respectively, to the energy and environment posts vacated by the imprisonment of rebel officials Pallo Bangura and Peter Vandy.

The rebel officials, along with jailed leader Foday Sankoh and others, remain in custody in connection with the shooting deaths of at least 21 civilian protesters outside Sankoh’s Freetown home shortly after the rebel advance began.

The rebels had been given Cabinet posts under a power-sharing government formed following a July 1999 peace accord signed by the rebels and government.

The rebels, who were also given amnesty under the peace deal, reneged on the accord with the May attacks and the simultaneous capture of some 500 U.N. hostages. Nearly all of were released, though a handful were believed killed.

The rebels are known for their bloody campaign of maimings that left thousands of civilians _ including infants and elderly women _ without hands or arms. They claim to be fighting to end corruption and bring aid to the country’s rural poor, though much of the fighting has been over control of the country’s rich diamond mines.

Sierra Leone remains devastated by the war, and Kabbah’s government survives only with foreign assistance, British military aid and a U.N. peacekeeping force.

The other appointments to the new Cabinet on Saturday include opposition member Ahmed Rhamadan Dumbuya, who replaces Sama Banya as foreign minister. Banya was reassigned as special adviser to the president.

Peter Kuyembeh, Sierra Leone’s former ambassador to Belgium, will become finance minister, replacing former U.N. Undersecretary-General James Jonah, who resigned last month to write his memoirs.

There was no immediate rebel reaction to Saturday’s Cabinet shuffle. The rebels have protested the decision to postpone elections.

Update hourly