|A frightened Capital awaits its fate as...
REBEL ATTACKS CONTINUE WITH NO END IN SIGHT
THE VIOLENCE in Sierra Leone continued into the new year with unabated ferocity as rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and other shadowy factions extended their reach to virtually all areas of the country. There is no doubt that while the RUF remains the dominant fighting force, other as yet unidentified groups are latching on to the rebel bandwagon.
Two weeks ago informed diplomatic sources were convinced that rebels were poised to attack the capital, Freetown. Many embassies urged their nationals to leave the country and triggered a large expatriate exodus. But the expected attack has not materialised, which may partly be due to frantic diplomatic initiatives taking place under the aegis of the UN, OAU, and the Commonwealth Organisation to bring the warring factions together for talks. The fractious and disparate nature of this diplomatic assay bodes ill for success. One wonders why a single mission was not arranged so that resources and effort could be focused.
In mid January, the university college town of Njala, in the Southern Province, was overrun by rebels. They burnt houses and killed eight including seven junior staff members. They seized the Principal and vice-Principal, whom they released later. Rounding up the remaining students on campus, they told them that they did not mean to harm them because students' support would be needed when they became the government. They then proceeded to the college supermarket, emptied its entire stock of provisions and liquor, and left.
Almost immediately, another group of rebels attacked Mabora, in the Northern Province, at mile 53 on the Freetown - Port Loko highway. It was a dastardly attack in which many civilians were killed and scores seriously wounded.
The most telling attacks took place in the mining districts of Moyamba and Bonthe in the South West, dealing a deadly blow to the country's economy. Minor skirmishes at Christmas had died down and expatriate staff who had been evacuated to Freetown as a safety precaution had returned when all seemed quiet. Suddenly on Wednesday 18 January, rebels attacked again with full and sustained force and quickly overran the HQ of the Sierra Leone Ore and Metal Company (SIEROMCO) at Mokanji, abducting 8 expatriates and an unknown number of local staff. Many were killed during fighting which lasted for several days at the West Plant site. Their work done the rebels moved further south-west and attacked the operations of the adjacent Sierra Rutile Company. Here also, they abducted 7 expatriates and at least 7 local staff members. A particularly sad case was that of Dr Barrie, a Sierra Leonean, recovering from a recent major operation, who was forced to carry the rebel commander in a hammock. He was later abducted with Dr Sullay Wai, another local company doctor and a Ugandan, Dr Sadalla and his wife who was eight months pregnant. Those lucky to escape scrambled on to barges and risked the perilous voyage by sea from the ports of Nitin and Bo No 8 to Freetown where, on arrival, they were screened for rebel infiltrators.
The following Monday, after this blitz, rebels hit the town of Gbinti, home of Foreign Minister Abass Bundoo, in the North where they burnt down 56 houses but not his own. Then two weeks ago rebels hit Kambia in the North. They torched many homes and abducted 7 catholic nuns - 6 Italians and 1 Brazilian - working at a polio hospital, with several local policemen. Over 35,000 frightened locals fled across the border to Forecaria in the Republic of Guinea, where they have joined some of the thousands who fled Kabala after last November's attack, and are now being looked after by the UNHCR. Conditions have deteriorated following an outbreak of cholera.
Government forces recently engaged rebels in the Kambui Hills outside Kenema where they were believed to have a base. (The NPRC believes they also have bases in the Sulla and Kangari Hills in the North. See the map above.) The randomness of rebel attacks was evident when Jojoima town, in the Kailahun District in the East which has enjoyed relative calm since rebels were dis-lodged in 1993, came under a dawn raid. Then last week a bus travelling to Freetown was ambushed on the main Freetown-Bo highway. One passenger died and 13 were seriously wounded.
On Monday, 13 February, the military convoy of the Brigade Commander in the South West, Lt Col Tom Carew, was attacked near Matagelema in the mining area which government forces claimed to have recaptured three days earlier. He was unhurt but one soldier in his vehicle was killed. Rebels now hold at least 24 expatriates and an unspecified number of Sierra Leoneans.
GIVE PEACE A CHANCE
A flurry of international diplomatic activity has followed the timely call made in this newsletter a month ago for the International Community to wake up to its historic responsibility and arrest the mounting carnage in Sierra Leone.
The Pope has called for a peaceful settlement; a paralysed and strait-jacketed United Nations Organisation, still reeling from botched attempts at mediation in other troubled areas, has at last sent a special representative with a mission to bring the warring parties together for talks; last week a moribund OAU despatched its Assistant Secretary General to Freetown; a hesitant but genuinely concerned Commonwealth Secretary General, suggested as a possible mediator in our last editorial, has offered his good and personal offices to the rebels - including his direct phone number - and, last weekend, sent a delegation to Freetown. All of this - in a frenetic quest for peace in Sierra Leone. A flattering array of glitterati which, even though late in arriving, must nonetheless be applauded.
But we must ask: why did these great institutions not react earlier? Could it be that the lives of ordinary Sierra Leoneans were considered to be dispensable for as long as the special interests of the West - those of America, Switzerland, Australia, Britain, France, Germany, to name but a few - were being served in the exploitation of our rich mineral resources? Is it a coincidence that it was only when "rebels" decided to finger the holy grail of the inviolate Western persona by abducting the citizens of these countries that the need for action became imperative?
Sierra Leoneans everywhere wish the hostages no harm. By the grace of God and Allah they will emerge unharmed. Focus calls upon whichever faction is holding them to do the decent thing and release them now. Only then can the serious business of securing a peaceful settlement for our country and people start, now that it would appear the conscience of the international community has at last been stirred into lending its support.
But we feel we must issue a strong and timely caveat to these latter day peacemakers. There are strong as yet unattributed rumours that the UN special envoy Dr Berhanu Dinka, now in Freetown, has the formation of an interim government on his agenda. He must not attempt to foist any individual on the country without proper and due consultation with all shades of opinion. Sierra Leone extends beyond the 25-mile perimeter of Freetown. He should have no truck with those Sierra Leoneans who, being well-placed in high office while resident abroad, had kept a discreet silence during the many years of injustice and bad government in the country. Having effectively broken their links with it, they witnessed the country's decline at a safe distance in comfortable surroundings and life styles. Some recently returned to take advantage of their wealth - hence, influence - to be put into positions of power by Strasser and his clique in preference to worthier Sierra Leoneans who had lost everything in confronting the nefarious APC governments of Siaka Stevens and Joseph Momoh. That is one reason why the NPRC quickly lost credibility among those who initially supported them.
Any member, let alone the putative head, of an interim government, should have nation-wide appeal and trust to re-present all the critical constituencies and facets of life in Sierra Leone. Our people will support a new government but not at any cost. It must therefore be, in the words of the resolution recently adopted by the Sierra Leone Peace Forum - one of three groups of concerned Sierra Leoneans in the UK currently demanding action from the international community - "a Government Of National Unity consisting of mature, experienced and sincere men and women, representing each and every region, district, tribe and faction in Sierra Leone to ... oversee the orderly return ... to civilian democratic rule".
We must also echo the justifiable pessimism of the correspondent in our letters column (see below) and strongly urge the mediators not to prop up the NPRC government. Sierra Leone has had serious economic, social and political problems which the NPRC, through its incompetence, arrogance and glaring improprieties, has failed to address. By dint of ferocious repression and their flagrant abuse of human rights including the harassment of innocent citizens up and down the country, especially at checkpoints even before the recent escalation of the war, the NPRC has managed to buy time in power for itself but lost the support of the vast majority of the people. Lacking the locus standi of an elected government and the neutrality of a peace broker, it too is as much a problematic factor in this matter. Sierra Leoneans up-country at least know that they have suffered as much violence from a renegade band of their own Armed Forces personnel as from the RUF and the other factional rebel groups.
That is why pressure must now be put on the NPRC to vacate office and hand over to a Government Of National Unity as has been, and is increasingly being, demanded by Sierra Leoneans across all walks of life both inside and outside the country. Peace must be given a chance to thrive once more in what used to be an oasis of peace and a haven of personal security - Sierra Leone.
Loyal national troops interrogate a suspected rebel after another daring
A B T Kamara
What frightens me most is that the West will give some support to the Sierra Leone government, not enough for it to defeat the "rebels", but enough to keep the war going. This seems to be more or less what has happened in Liberia. Outside forces set themselves against the strong man, Charles Taylor, who, had there been no interference, would have taken over the whole country several years ago and the war would have been over. I don't particularly care who rules Sierra Leone. I just want the terror and killing to come to an end. If the fighting continues, there will be mass starvation as in Liberia.
(Name & Address supplied)
POPE CALLS FOR PEACE
His Holiness, Pope John Paul II has ex-pressed his "profound sadness" at the news of the violence and kidnapping of religious and others in Sierra Leone whose return was "anxiously awaited". He added: "With the Bishops of Sierra Leone, I invite all parties in the conflict to put down their arms and dialogue to find a worthy solution for the serious problems afflicting the country."
ALL 12 DISTRICTS HAVE NOW BEEN HIT BY REBELS
AN ATTACK launched by rebels in the Kambia District on the town of Kambia in the Northern Province two weeks ago signalled another milestone in the bloody campaign to make Sierra Leone ungovernable. With this attack, all of the twelve administrative districts of Sierra Leone have now been directly affected. If RUF rebels wished to make a signal point about their potency then this was one to prove it.
In truth though, what started as a skirmish over the common border with Liberia quickly metamorphosed into an overspill of the Liberian civil war. Today, nearly four years later, it has assumed the proportions of an interminable nasty war threatening to overwhelm the whole country. The only area that has escaped its ravages so far is the Western Area - comprising of Freetown and its Rural Areas.
A whirlwind tour of the rebels' progress commences in the Pujehun District. Like a wild forest fire it soon enveloped that district and began to stretch eastward into the Kailahun District. There, for two years, rebels succeeded in establishing their headquarters until they were dislodged by government troops in April 1993. They then launched one of their most daring and probably the most destructive attacks on the Kono District which has remained cut off from the rest of the country since December 1993.
Some of the earliest attacks took place in the Bonthe District with rebels reportedly hitting isolated villages in the swamp areas of the region. Notable among one of their victims was the Paramount Chief Bonifide Farmer who was decapitated and his torso-less head exhibited on a wooden stake for all to see.
Sporadic skirmishes with heavy loss of life on both sides took place in the Kenema District where it was believed the rebels, having been pushed out of the Kono District, had taken refuge and were systematically burning and looting villages, killing innocent civilians as they moved from one area to the next. The first foreign casualties occurred here with the murder, in Panguma, of an Irish missionary and a Dutch couple and their daughter.
Rebels cut off the highway between Bo and Kenema - the main thoroughfare linking the two districts and their capitals. Occasional incursions were made into the Bo District but these were repulsed by young men in vigilante groups. Matters finally came to a head when rebels surrounded Kenema Town in a carefully planned siege, terrorising the inhabitants of surrounding villages and towns. At the same time a new flank was opened when they struck deep in the Tonkolili District destroying the towns of Makali, Masingbi and Matotoka in the North, and killing and wounding their citizens.
Last November rebels appeared in the North, in the Koinadugu District, where after some burning and looting in Kabala they abducted two British VSOs whom they still hold captive.
These hit and run attacks were to prove a foretaste of the blitz and mayhem of Christmas 1994 which was featured in the last edition of Focus. (See FSL Vol 1 No 2.) As was reported then, in addition to the districts of Kenema and Bo, two more fell at the mercy of the rebels - Port Loko and Bombali Districts. These were quickly followed by the districts of Moyamba where mining operations were invaded and, most recently, Kambia which led to nearly 40,000 taking refuge across the border in the Republic of Guinea.
STATE OF DESPAIR
[Part 1 of this serialisation of the article "State Of Permanent
Disrepair" published in West Africa magazine (23 April-1 May
1994) appeared in FSL Vol 1 No 2. The final part will be published in the
In one such article dated 4 February 1994 offering a reasoned explanation for the current budget deficit "believed to be 6.5 billion Leones" and the lack of success in the war, the writer, Sahr K Sam, commented that "The unpleasant truth is that they (the NPRC) display more courage and gallantry in the acquisition of wealth in the diamond pits and the peaceful surroundings of the capital than in the war front." This is in reference to allegations that SLAF officers are busy mining diamonds in so-proclaimed rebel areas when they should officially be at the war front. I was told by one very disappointed former editor who could not raise the prohibitive sum required in time to register his paper, that the Sierra Leone Association of Journalist (SLAJ) had lost confidence in the NPRC owing to its, and especially Secretary of State for Information Mr Hindolo Trye's, undemocratic actions against the press.
As for the libel case between Strasser and the courageous editor of the New Breed newspaper, Dr Julius Spencer a lecturer in Dramatic art at Fourah Bay College, it is clear that things have not gone very well for the NPRC. A total news blackout has been imposed on the evidence that has been adduced in court so far. It is widely believed that a robust challenge has been mounted by the defence. There are strong indications in Freetown that Strasser would like to let the matter rest quietly but that a few of his maverick advisers, are insisting that he soldiers on. Dr Alusine Fofannah, once a close associate of Spencer and co-founder of New Breed, is now Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and has been notably silent in defence of his erstwhile colleague.
The appointment of Dr Abbas Bundu, who was sacked by the late Siaka Stevens, caused a serious rift among members of the ruling Council because many claimed that they were not consulted. It was Dr Bundu who, in a recent interview on Focus on Africa, described the continuing rebel war as a civil war which is a radical departure from the hitherto officially held view that the war was, and is in fact inspired and maintained by Charles Taylor's Patriotic Front of Liberia. This creates a new problem for Sierra Leone in that any call for international help to pursue the war might not be heeded because other countries who want to help might feel it is a purely internal domestic matter.
Towards the end of last year, the NPRC suffered a humiliating dressing down by Chairman Jerry Rawlings of Ghana. A delegation led by NPRC Secretary General, John Benjamin, who is himself aspiring to become President of Sierra Leone, went on a consultative mission to the Ghanaians for ideas about a future political system for Sierra Leone. An angry and disappointed Rawlings told the delegation how it had taken Ghana almost ten years to develop and prepare the country for their current Constitution. He was particularly scathing about the life styles of NPRC members - flashy cars and fashionable clothes, luxurious houses and lack of respect for ordinary citizens. Revolutionaries, he said, do not behave like that. In the end the Sierra Leone delegation returned home with nothing but egg on their face. Rawlings did not have time for them. The Ghanaian Foreign Minister softened the blow the next day before the premature termination of the delegation's visit by promising to send two (junior) officials to visit Sierra Leone and hold discussions about how Sierra Leoneans could set about organising themselves. This incident which is not widely known in the country was a national humiliation.
The question every Sierra Leonean should ask Strasser is this: Are we Sierra Leoneans so intellectually bankrupt that we cannot sit down among ourselves to work out the modalities of how we wish to run our own affairs? Where in heavens name is our national pride?
(To be continued in the next edition)
PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED . . .
[Ambrose Ganda]Why grovel before these tin-pot soldiers?
Right now I am raging with incandescent anger. I am just under twice as old as most members of the NPRC including Captain Valentine Strasser and his deputy Julius Bio. Even my two younger brothers are still much older than both men. Yet my brothers have always looked to me for guidance and leadership and when they have erred I have told them so. So why should I be afraid to tell the young men of the NPRC the truth? I am sick and tired of some of my compatriots who will not stand up to these bully boys whose only source of courage is the gun they carry. I have even heard them addressed as "Pa" by people old enough to be their grand parents. As far as I am concerned, the only "Pa" I had - my father - died some ten years ago. If any one should deserve that title from me they must earn it and it won't be the tin-pot boys of the NPRC. "Mr Chairman" "... Mr Deputy Chairman" - will do for me for now!
Saddling Sierra Leone with debts is no achievement.
Hilton Fyle, eat your heart out!
... And now, some simple questions?
Stop Press..Peace march..Women in Thousands chant "We want peace"..City
traffic standstill..STOP..Mattru Jong attack believed overspill of Rutile
mine raids..STOP..More attacks on Freetown-Bo highway..3 killed .. scores
wounded..Freetown hospitals full..STOP