Sierra Leone
Volume 1 No 4                                                          12 March 1995
Editorial

WE MUST BURY THE HATCHET, LET BYGONES BE BYGONES, AND GET BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD TO CHART A NEW WAY FORWARD

THE FUTURE gets bleaker and bleaker for Sierra Leone. Recent diplomatic efforts to facilitate dialogue between the NPRC, the RUF and other factions seem to have come to nought. There is reticence and equivocation on both sides. The United Nations special envoy in Freetown, Dr Berhanu Dimka, has not been able to make any significant contact or headway with the RUF although he continues to meet and talk to civic leaders and groups. A special mission despatched by the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, returned to London better informed but empty handed, some say with a rather pessimistic appraisal of the prospects for peace in the immediate future. The Assistant Secretary General of the OAU is continuing his own efforts and has re-affirmed his determination to keep on trying despite the odds. That is the correct attitude.

The odds simply are that the RUF refuses to engage in any discussion until its preconditions have been met. These include the removal from Sierra Leone of all foreign troops - Nigerian, Guinean and Ghanaian; and the stepping down from power by the NPRC to make way for a Government of National Unity.

Ghana has denied it has troops in Sierra Leone. The situation has been compounded by the NPRC hiring ex-British Gurkha soldiers who are currently carrying out joint manoeuvres with our troops. The British government has denied complicity and is believed to be strongly opposed to this action. The government of Nepal, home of the Gurkhas from where they were recruited, has strongly condemned the move and expressed its profound regret and embarrassment. It has vowed to tighten its laws to prevent the recruitment of its nationals as mercenaries. Captain Strasser and his comrades will not budge from power. Put simply, we have reached a stalemate but it is not the end of the road.

The only chink of hope so far has been the pro-activeness of Sierra Leonean nationals in the diaspora, notably in the UK and USA, who have woken up to the fact that their country desperately needs them. Some undoubtedly have hidden political agenda but there is no mistaking the fact that the vast majority have been motivated primarily by love of country. They must be applauded; their actions (see below) must be endorsed; they should be exhorted not to relax in their search for peace in our country. Their next logical step is for them to co-ordinate their activities so that they can better pool together and utilise their limited resources. It will add weight to efforts elsewhere and reinforce the claim that they are not just a bunch of disparate and fractious groups groping rudderless in the dark but are, in fact, united in the cause to bring the country the back to sanity; that they are prepared to co-operate irrespective of tribal, social and political allegiances. Sierra Leone is too small to be sacrificed to the individual preferences of particular persons and groups.

Once they are strong organisationally, with their internal relationships harmonised - individually as well as collectively - they can then take the bolder initiative to contact our brothers and sisters in the NPRC, the RUF and other warring factions. There is no reason why it should be beyond us to talk to them. They are, after all, our own people. What could make the task difficult and well nigh impossible is for the RUF or NPRC to be approached by a variety of emissaries from different groups. It would signal to them a lack of cohesion and resolve which they will exploit by playing one group against the other. This is probably what has happened to the efforts of the three major international organisations referred to earlier. As long as the RUF and the warring factions know that there is no concerted strategy in their way they will continue to duck and weave while the country smoulders on the embers of indecisiveness and uncertainty.

Concerted action must encompass a solution that will recognise all Sierra Leoneans - the young for their energy, adventurism and enthusiasm; the old for their wisdom, experience and judgement; factional or rebel groups for their dedication, conviction and commitment; civilians for their skills, talents, resources and their very being; and the military which, by definition, must include the NPRC, for their notional duty to defend and protect the nation. Sierra Leoneans are now being put to the severest test ever in their history. It will require an abounding dose of magnanimity towards one another, especially those we have considered hitherto as enemies; tolerance of those in whose presence we have never felt comfortable and with whom we have loathed to share our anxieties. We must rise above prejudice and pettiness and be prepared to forgive and forget the past. We must get together to chart a new future as testimony to our innate qualities of humanity and care - qualities that used to be our strength but to which bad political leadership had so cruelly de-sensitised us. This is the only sensible way out for us if we are to avoid total national disintegration - a sad example of which beckons at us ominously from Liberia.

As de facto government, the NPRC bears a major responsibility in all this. They must understand that the mood of the country is for peace. The way they have responded to popular demands for a government of national unity has been less than candid. They must realise that lives of ordinary Sierra Leoneans will not continue to be sacrificed on the altar of NPRC obduracy and obsession with power. They must consider stepping down in favour of a broadly based representative government in which they will no doubt play a part. For them to tinker with this complex problem by indulging in Public Relations gimmickry, such as that being conducted by Arnold Gooding their Information Minister, while the country burns is criminal.

The RUF also, and those factions that are hiding under its pervasive cloak of destruction, must bear equal responsibility for the future which, even they must now realise, is looking unpromising as the toll of gruesome death, psychological damage, physical injury and suffering inflicted on innocent civilians mounts. Like the NPRC, they are unwittingly sowing the seeds of mistrust and suspicion that will be hard to eradicate even if their wish for government came true. 

We appeal to the NPRC, the RUF and all those who flirt with them to pause a while and reflect upon these questions: What sort of electorate do they hope to govern? A people that have lost their self-confidence and human dignity? A people traumatised and reduced to zombies, with neither the will nor a purpose to live for? A population that has been humiliated, degraded and cowered into submission? Whose support will they count on if and when they come to power? Will it be the hundreds of thousands of villagers and town dwellers who have been flushed out of their homes; deprived of the love and company of their cherished ones; chased out of their own country and familiar surroundings only to take refuge in strange lands? Do they expect support from poor families who, after years of hard word work, have seen their modest homes and proud possessions vanish in flames before their own eyes. Why should displaced people feel any loyalty to those who have made them unhappy and unwelcome in their own country? Will they be ruling by the gun even when they come to power? If the RUF and NPRC do not like each other then they should direct their anger - and their guns - at each other. Why do they pick on soft and defenceless targets - the women, children, the old and the weak who have no quarrel with them and have no interest in government?

The RUF, its allies and the NPRC must think hard and respond positively to the current feelers for peace. If they do not take the bait, the alternative is that they will become rulers in a wilderness of skeletons and shadows.


February to mid-March

A CHRONICLE OF VIOLENCE AND SUFFERING





(Please note that this map is incomplete due to loss of some of its format during conversion. A scanned image will replace this one shortly.)
 

THE PERIOD from February to mid-March saw violence concentrated mainly in the southwest of the country - in Mokanji where SIERROMCO operates the bauxite mines and Mobimbi where the Sierra Rutile Company operations are based. There were horrific assaults on the country's highways.

The greatest shock was reserved for Captain Strasser and the NPRC when one of the regime's most popular officers, the genial Major Abu Tarawalli, aide de camp to the Chairman was killed. Wild rumours surround the circumstances of his death but he was in a convoy of government troops and 10 Gurkhas which was ambushed on the main Freetown-Bo highway near Matoiir in the North. The leader of the Gurkha mercenary brigade was also killed, some say, decapitated. A third man, also believed to a gurkha, was killed. Government troops claimed 6 rebels were killed. Earlier reports claimed that Major Tarawalli's corpse has not been recovered.

But RUF Public Relations Secretary, Ibrahim Jalloh, speaking from Ghana on the BBC in defence of this action, claimed that "it was not an ambush. If we are attacked we will react. It was an ordered attack ... both air and ground attack ... and we repelled that attack when the Major was killed, and the commander of the gurkhas was killed, and a senior officer who was conducting and directing the planes was captured".

Meanwhile ferocious fighting around the mining areas has led to control over them changing hands two times. Rebels currently appear to control Mobimbi but their claim over Mokanji was vigorously disputed by the NPRC which insisted that it was firmly in control there. 

The rebels, bristling with fresh confidence after overrunning the mines last month, had moved further south without any resistance, capturing and occupying nearly all the small towns and villages in the area up to Mattru Jong and Tihun. Initially they showered their captives with gifts of food - rice, and milk for suckling mothers - taken from stores they had raided at the mines. But according to eye witness reports monitored in London on the BBC's Focus on Africa program, when they heard claims that government troops had killed 17 of their comrades they went berserk and took revenge on the civilians. Mattru Jong was turned into an inferno; scores of civilians were killed, with several taking to flight in nearby bushes. Over hundred houses were set alight. 

Rebels have dug in, making it virtually a base. At Luawa, 3 miles away, an old lady, Mama Kadhi, was murdered in front of her daughter, Betty whom they abducted. Semabu, Bauya, Motuo and smaller villages were not spared.

It is a short hop from Mattru to Tihun home of Captain Julius Maada Bio, deputy Chairman of the NPRC and his elder brother Steven Bio, the Paramount Chief. When during an earlier raid 2 houses were destroyed, a Bio evacuated his relatives by helicopter to Freetown. Later one of the most macabre rebel acts in their wretched campaign took place here. Returning a second time after raiding the mines, under the pretext of holding a meeting, they herded the people, mainly women and children, into the courthouse and set them alight.

Nearly every little town and village was visited by rebels in this operation. In Sumbuya a diamond mining town which was resettling after earlier raids, 35 civilians were murdered and most of the partially reconstructed infrastructure was destroyed.

A group of armed men headed west of Mattru Jong torching houses along the main Mattru-Bo road, and veered off to Serabu where they burnt down 47 houses in the centre of the town. The hospital was closed three months ago after rebel threatened its expatriate staff. The pattern of destruction was replicated in Walihun and Mokele.

In the North, the attack on ADC Tarawalli's convoy had been preceded by hit and run attacks on vehicles plying the Freetown-MaSiaka-Makeni highway. About three miles from Foredugu, the scene of two previous attacks, a civilian lorry was waylaid and one soldier and a woman and child were killed in a 2-hour gun battle with government troops. The NPRC claimed soon afterwards that it had "launched air and ground attacks on rebel bases in the Kangari Hills in the North", helped by Nigerian troops. Makeni's outskirts were raided.

Regular attacks on civilian passengers have occurred mostly on the stretch of highway between the villages of Matoiir, Rokumbi, Royanka, Maseteleh and Mile 91. It was at Masetleh that one of the most gruesome attacks took place last month. 11 vehicles and 2 buses were struck in one operation. Doctors in Freetown who treated the casualties said the injuries were the most horrific they had ever seen.



All eyes on the main prize ...

PEACE IN SIERRA LEONE

THE MONTH of February saw a dramatic and sustained effort by Sierra Leoneans of various persuasions, resident in the United Kingdom, to add their voice to the call for peace in Sierra Leone. Below is a collection of resolutions recently adopted and presented to governments, government representatives and organisations. The consensus is that the international community has failed Sierra Leone but there is an underlying yearning for the main prize - Peace. No effort is being spared.

Resolution by the Sierra Leone Peace Forum (UK)
WE the members of The Sierra Leone Peace Forum (SLPF) being citizens of the Republic of Sierra Leone; (a) Conscious of our duty and obligation to the nation whence we derive our birth and infant nurture; (b) Being painfully aware of the on-going events in our motherland brought about by civil war and strife that has plagued the nation for some four years; (c) Noting the devastation in human lives and property leading to a complete breakdown of the national economic framework, law and order, the Rule of law, as well as the atrocities evidently undertaken by both or all parties to the chaos and anarchy presently prevailing in our beloved country; (d) Concerned about the attendant suffering of the citizenry of Sierra Leone resulting from the war; DO HEREBY,

1. Express our utter disappointment at the manner in which hitherto the International Community has shown unprecedented disregard for the tragic events taking place in Sierra Leone. We note that not until some British and other foreign nationals in Sierra Leone were abducted did the said events get any mention in the media in countries of the developed world. This has left us with the feeling that organised society in our country, the lives and property of its citizens have been sacrificed on the altar of commercial interests and gain.

2. Call upon the said International Community, in particular the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, it being the former colonial power in whose sphere of influence Sierra Leone is generally and rightly regarded to be, the United Nations Organisation, The European Union and the United States of America, as well as the Commonwealth, to give due cognisance to the fact that Sierra Leone is a worthy fellow member of the said International Community; Consequently, it is incumbent on them to take all means possible to arrest this most devastating period/event in our nation's history and to do all within its power to restore normalcy within a democratic setting to our country.

We note the betrayal and failure of the military government of the National Provisional Revolutionary Council (NPRC) to protect the lives and property of citizens; its flagrant disregard for the fundamental Human and Civil Rights of Sierra Leoneans; the corrupt nature and practices of its membership leading to the dissipation of the country's mineral and financial resources on a scale previously unknown in the history of Sierra Leone; its total disregard and lack of commitment to the principles of democracy and good governance; and, above all, its unwillingness and/ or inability to conclude the war as was promised to the nation on 29 April 1992.

We therefore call upon the military government of the NPRC, in the interest of Sierra Leone as a whole, to vacate and handover the governance of Sierra Leone to 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 the intent that the said government of national unity will oversee the orderly return of Sierra Leone to a civilian democratic rule.

We have considered the motives that drove our brothers and sisters in the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and other factions into the bush in pursuit of their aims; But we ask that they act in the interest and benefit of the ordinary Sierra Leonean and not the NPRC or ex ministers of the All Peoples Congress (APC) many of whom are living in relative luxury and safety. We further call upon the RUF and all other factions involved in the conflict to lay down their arms and support the formation of a Government Of National Unity that will undertake the orderly return of Sierra Leone to civil democratic governance.

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A Resolution by Sierra Leoneans Acting For Peace (SLAP) (UK)
(1) We, the members of SLAP - Sierra Leoneans Acting For Peace - a non political and non partisan organisation in the United Kingdom, wish to alert the International Community to the dangerous and deteriorating situation in Sierra Leone which, we are convinced, if not addressed will lead to further instability in the West African sub-Region.

(2) We are concerned that thousands of Sierra Leoneans and some foreign nationals have lost their lives during the present conflict and the vast majority of them are without adequate and necessary protection from rebel attacks and abductions; Realising that the response of our Armed Forces to the current situation has not been successful, we are convinced that more lives would be lost if nothing is done.

(3) We therefore call upon the International Community to urgently consider the deployment of an International/ Multinational Force in Sierra Leone.

(a) Once the International Force has been sited on the territory of Sierra Leone a formal call, backed by the international community, for a cease fire should be made; but should that go unheeded, then; 

(b) All armed personnel must be ordered to return to their command posts in orderly fashion so that a proper account of their numbers and rank can be registered; 

(c) Combatants remaining in the field after such a call shall be deemed the enemy and the International Force should be empowered to take any action it thinks fit and proper to meet that situation.

(4) In the meantime steps should be taken to facilitate the coming together of all parties to the conflict to discus a peaceful end to hostilities so that Sierra Leoneans can once again live in peace. (5) We call upon the government of the Republic of Sierra Leone to cooperate fully and without reservation with the international community in their efforts towards the implementation of the actions proposed in this resolution, and to support the international Force once deployed by all manner of help without hinderance to its work.

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Resolution by Concerned Sierra Leoneans (UK)
(1) We are a group of concerned Sierra Leoneans. The problems in Sierra Leone have been heightened by indiscriminate killing and taking of hostages, both nationals and foreign workers. The situation continues to deteriorate as highlighted by media coverage in recent times. It appears that something in the region of 80% of the country is no longer safe in terms there is a war being waged in which many innocent lives have been lost. There has been wanton destruction of social infrastructure. This is a nation on the brink of collapse. It is in this regard the we, concerned for the future of Sierra Leone, ask for your help as concerned nationals who seek a permanent, peaceful solution to this plight. 

(2) Mindful of the mistakes made in Liberia, realising the situation in Rwanda and cognisant of the role of forces of the sub-Region in Sierra Leone we appeal to all foreign troops based in the country to redefine their role in our beloved country so as to facilitate the peaceful resolution of this conflict; 

(3) We call upon the governments of all our sister countries in the sub-Region to use their best endeavours to facilitate a speedy and peaceful end to the current hostilities. 

(4) We urge the International Community, especially the United Nations, which until now has been less than keen to avert sufferings in Africa to put its full weight behind, and take an active role in resolving this crisis before it reaches Rwandan proportions. 

(5) We call upon the parties to this conflict to co-operate fully and without reservation with the international community in their efforts towards the implementation of the actions proposed in this resolution.

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Specific Proposals by the Movement To End Violence In Sierra Leone (UK/US)
(1) That we, conscious of our historic obligations and determined to put Sierra Leone before self call for the return of the country to the status quo ante so that talks can be held within a framework of legality and constitutionality; 

(2) That a National Interim Provisional Council (NIPC) be formed representing all shades of political opinion and including members of the NPRC, RUF and other combatants;

(3) That on the formation of the National Interim Provisional Government, an immediate ceasefire be arranged. That all armed personnel observe the ceasefire by retreating ten miles to assembly points agreed by the NIPC;

(4) That the NIPC ask all foreign troops to return to their barracks to await further instructions;

(5) That the NIPC invite military personnel of as yet unnamed countries to monitor the ceasefire; 

(6) That all hostages be released and repatriated to their countries of origin; 

(7) That the NIPC through bilateral negotiations invite a co-sponsor to the peace talks with the intention of providing logistics and personnel to decommission all the weapons currently in use; 

(8) That the NIPC and the co-sponsor/s undertake the restructuring of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces; 

(9) That the task of the NIPC should be to put Sierra Leone irrevocably on the path to one person one vote democracy.

(10) That the NIPC arrange an election to consider the constitutional framework of the country.

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Statement by The National League For Human Rights and Democracy (NHLRD)
The NLHRD express concern over the escalating political and human rights degradation in Sierra Leone. We condemn the wanton destruction of inno-cent lives and property ... and advise all warring factions to agree to an unconditional ceasefire so that the senseless destruction of civilian lives and property shall end immediately. The perpetration of these despicable acts have created everlasting scars on the minds of our people. We appeal to all belligerent parties to avoid inflicting further casualties on our people. It is better to sit down and discuss our problems than to resolve them through the barrel of guns.


The text of the following resolution was kindly sent to Focus by Glenys Kinnock, Labour Member of the European Parliament for South Wales East who expressed her concern and promised to continue to follow events in Sierra Leone.

The Africa Caribbean Pacific (ACP)-European Union (EU) Joint Assembly Resolution on Sierra Leone adopted 2 February 1995 (Dakar, Senegal)

Whereas the conflict between the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front and the Government of the National Provisional Ruling Council has resulted in serious human suffering in Sierra Leone since 1991; Convinced that the fresh exodus of refugees to neighbouring countries is a result of the current general situation of political instability and military destabilisation; Whereas on 25 January 1995, six nuns - five Italians and one Brazilian - were kidnapped at the Kambia mission and whereas foreign aid workers, volunteers have suffered a similar fate in recent months 

(1) Calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the six nuns and of all those who have been kidnapped since November 1994; (2) Calls on the warring factions in Sierra Leone to accept the cease-fire proposed in order to launch a process of dialogue and political discussion between the government and the rebels; (3) Calls on the Council of the European Union, the ACP-EU Council of Ministers and the Member States of the European Union to take the necessary preventive diplomacy measures in connection with the conflict in Sierra Leone in time to prevent the outbreak of a new and violent war with unforeseeable consequences, as can be seen in Liberia; (4) Pays tribute and expresses its appreciation to those in Sierra Leone - as well as in other countries - who are risking their own personal safety in order to display human and political solidarity with the poor; (5) Instructs its Co-Presidents to forward this resolution to the Council of the European Union, the Commission, the ACP-EU Council of Ministers, the Governments of the Member States of the European Union and the Government of Sierra Leone.
 


LETTERS

They offered no resistance to the rebels*
Sieromco and Sierra Rutile were the most highly secured areas in the country besides the Head of State's premises, yet even with a soldier on every street corner of Mokanji town, the rebels attacked in broad daylight without a single soldier to return fire when the rebels were shooting. The rebels got more arms after they entered Mokanji, as the soldiers fled leaving their house full of arms open, as if it was arranged, then the rebels went in and picked everything up; honestly there was no battle between government forces and rebels.
  The rebels captured some top management officials and killed up to seven people, and then left on the same day they attacked (16 January), and moved on towards Rutile. Most of the people killed were running away and failed to stop when told. The rebels themselves did not loot anything, but when the government troops returned from hiding every senior staff house was looted, and all the bars, clubs and the chop store. 
 

Displaced Mines Employee now resident in Freetown
(Name & address supplied)


*This letter, received towards the end of February, is reproduced unedited.

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We need a government of adults
Neither the NPRC nor the rebels are the root of the problem. For 17 years Shaki and his kleptocracy eroded the respect and legitimacy of government. Then we had Momoh and his "dandogo" for 7 years to finish off what was left of government; by the end of Momoh's rule he had stopped paying civil servants, teachers, even paramount chiefs. Central government had collapsed, and then of course we had border incursions, "rebels" and all the automatic weapons pouring over the border from Liberia. The NPRC, the "rebels" and the "sobels" all amount to the chaos one expects when government disappears. None of them are the cause of our problems, but they are symptoms of those problems. 
  The central issue is how to get in place a government of adult people, and then more importantly, how can they reconstruct government, rebuild institutions, and regain credibility. Most people here, who are respected but have no previous involvement in government are unwilling to put themselves on the line and press for the setting up of an interim government of technocrats. Given this country's history, anyone who puts himself forward in politics is always viewed as a thief, so its hardly surprising these people don't want to ruin their good reputations for nothing. This shows just how much the idea of government has disintegrated in Sierra Leone and that's why I don't see any end to the problems, because there are no solutions to be found inside the country.

Abu Turay
Freetown

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Whom, and what are they liberating?
We are witnessing a new form of violence so nicely labelled as `liberation'. Sometimes it makes you wonder what these so called `liberators' are up to. Even more puzzling is the attitude of so-called civilised nations, towards these `Liberation movements.'What in Heaven's name are we being liberated from, and does it really merit the ongoing price that Sierra Leoneans have been made to pay? My faith in the new world order has been shattered at the sight of world powers turning a blind eye to the inhumane activities of armed persons who sole wish is to bring about change by force.
  What we are witnessing is an experiment that could become the norm because those nations with the power to arrest what is going on are, by default, condoning - hence approving - the sort of atrocities that are being perpetrated daily on defenceless citizens as in Liberia and Sierra Leone. These two countries have been reduced to ruins, their citizens terrorised and dehumanised, properties looted and destroyed, women raped and children killed in cold blood by people who are calling themselves liberators. How can the self-styled civilised world stand by and let these things happen? The world surely is in for more violent times.
  I must however say thanks to those organi-sations that have helped our people in these hard times - Christian Aid, Methodist mission, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), CAFOD, Red Cross, World food and Save the Children, CARE, AICF, UNHCR, etc. They have been front runners in providing for the displaced, the hungry, the physically and mentally wounded.

A M Sheriff
London


ANATOMY OF AN ACTUAL `REBEL' RAID

(On 20 January this year, FOCUS received this eye-witness account of the rebel attack on Mattru - the one on the old railway line near Bo - Tinkoko chiefdom, Bo District, Southern Province. Shortage of space prevented earlier publication.)

ON 25 DECEMBER 1994, we panicked when we heard that rebels had hit our chiefdom HQ -Tinkoko. The panic was intensified in the evening hours with the influx of people into Mattru from Tinkoko and its environs. Between 00.30 and 01.15 a.m. we heard heavy shelling from the southern capital, Bo. This created pandemonium in the village as people started packing their belongings and prepared to leave Mattru in search of refuge in other areas. By early morning, many people had vacated the village.

At about 7.30 a.m. on the 26 December, 1994 a group of armed men - about 38 in number - dressed in military combat gear entered the village and presented themselves as government `soldiers' who had been sent to protect the life and property of the people of Mattru. They explained that because of the recent attack on Tinkoko by rebels, government was aware that there were by-pass roads leading to Mattru from Tinkoko. Because Mattru is a short distance to Bo, it was necessary to prevent any attack there otherwise it could provided an easy access to Bo.

Not satisfied by this account, 4 people were selected and sent to Bo Brigade HQ to verify the reasons for the soldiers presence in the village. They returned with the assurance that their information was correct and that in fact 50 soldiers had been despatched. More soldiers would be arriving. That gave most of us the courage to stay put and we went around encouraging others to come out of hiding and return to the village.

At 2.45 p.m. a brown coloured vehicle with a foreign-looking number plate RC 2464-C arrived with cooked food for the soldiers. The food was eaten between 3.15 and 3.30 p.m. Later some of the soldiers went to bathe in the nearby Kaimeh stream, which divides the village into two.

Between 3.30 and 4.30 p.m there were many more soldiers in the village - all well dressed in military combat fatigues and decked with lethal ammunition. They were moving behind houses. At about 4.00 p.m. we heard heavy gun fire in and around the village which gave us fright. Some of us believed that `rebels' had attacked the village and that it was an exchange of firing between them and `our soldiers'. Others felt that additional soldiers had arrived and were shooting in the air to show the rebels, wherever they might be, that they - `our soldiers' - were now in the village.

We locked ourselves up in our houses. After almost an hour of incessant shooting, there was a sudden calm. Realising now that our lives were very much in jeopardy, some of us sneaked through the back doors of our houses and went to hide in bushes nearby, taking nothing with us. Later those who had stayed behind were forced to open their houses and come out. They did, and each of them was interrogated such as whether government soldiers had been staying in the village, etc. We had certainly been tricked and the village had clearly been set up for a rebel onslaught because, after that profuse firing of shots, none of the soldiers who claimed to have come to protect the lives and property of the people were to be seen around. The civilians were all herded together.

While `rebels' were massing the inhabitants from the other sections of the village, some young men were killed while others were spared to find their way out. Those who were retained were conveyed to Benduma Section. They saw the corpses of two young men - one, identified as Gava, was lying on the street near the water well and the other, Borbor, lay between the adjacent compounds of Morovia Sorbeh and David Kpenji. Until we are able to go back to the village, I cannot say what the exact number of casualties was.

It was only when the 'rebels' had assembled the civilians together that they revealed their identity as the real rebels of Foday Sankoh fighting to liberate the people of Sierra Leone. At night time all the civilians were incarcerated in one house with the exception of one young lady, Maddi, who stayed with them throughout the night. No harm was done to any of the civilians that were detained by them that night. During her watch with the rebels, Maddi heard them say that they were to attack Bo and Kenema the next morning and later Freetown itself. Also, that some notable people were supporting them, but their names were not disclosed. They also assured the civilians that they should not be afraid and that they will be identified later. That if they had wanted to annihilate any one of them they could have done so earlier. They said that they had four main tasks to carry out: recruit and train members; kill and massacre civilians; burn houses and attack soldiers especially top-ranking officers; behead xxxxx xxx (Our deletive ...Ed.) and overthrow the NPRC government.

They said that the first two phases had passed away. They were now embarking on the third. They further told their captives that the reason for their mischievous actions was that after the APC had damaged the country, they rebelled against the system. When NPRC took over power, they made lots of promises but up to this day they have not honoured them.

Finally the `rebels' complained that soldiers were still being paid only Le.300 and a bag of rice a month which they said is not enough by any measurable way.

After all these revelations to the civilians whom they had held overnight, between 4.30 and 5.00 a.m on 27 December 1994, the rebels brought (bags of) rice, chickens and all condiments for cooking. Among them was a woman they called Gbessay who cooks for them. As early as 07.00 a.m., food was ready. The detainees were let out and everyone - civilians as well as rebels - was given food. After they had finished eating, the rebels offered sacrifice with water and sprinkled their foreheads asking God to help them succeed in the coming attack on Bo Town.

At about 7.45 a.m. they asked the civilians to move with them from Benduma Section to the other end of the town on the old railway line to Bo. As they moved out, they set fire to houses along the way. What incendiary device they used is not known because they carried out the operations behind their hostages, at the back of the convoy.

Just as they reached the old railway line heading for Bo, they met with some more civilians who were going to Mattru in search of their relatives and to see the condition of their village. They forced them to join the others and were ordered to march back with them to Bo.

At Madina - the village before the last railway bridge to New London - rebels asked all the civilians to find their own way while they advanced towards Bo. Just then firing started immediately after the bridge in New London. That was about 10.00 a.m.

Up to the time of this report, some of our people have not been seen. We are still searching for them. ?

(Editor's note: This letter was signed by one Borbordeen Ngabeh, Section Chief of Golamajei Section. It was addressed to: The Regent Chief, Tinkoko Chiefdom and copied to the following: Provincial Secretary, Southern Province; Secretary of State, Southern Province; Chief Police Officer, Bo; Brigade Commander, Bo; NARECOM; CCSL; WPF; AFRICARE; FAO; High Court Judge, Bo; SLENA.

There is a discernible pattern of collusion between so-called rebel forces and renegade personnel of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces. Of that, there is now very little doubt.)


PRIZE WINNER SOYINKA BERATES STRASSER 

Nigerian writer and Nobel prize winner Wole Soyinka has attacked the likes of Captain Strasser's regime with a tongue as sharp as his pen. In a recent statement Soyinka had this to say about the pervasive influence of his country Nigeria:

"Unless Nigeria can be returned to democracy quickly, more military governments will spring up in Africa ... Unless this situation in Nigeria is checked, we know that there is going to be a mimic, imitative snowballing effect. It is happening already in Sierra Leone. The Nigerian dictatorship is taking advantage of the Liberian situation to sustain this ignorant regime of Strasser ... What is happening in Nigeria is not the problem of Nigeria alone. You can see it from the stupid mimicry that is taking place in Sierra Leone, in the Gambia where some wretched, miserable, empty-headed mutineers decided they had the right to take over the destiny of millions of people without any cabinet qualifications and vision ... nothing but the notion of power."


PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED ...

[Ambrose Ganda]


Dear Mr Arnold Bishop Gooding 
(Minister of information)

Masquerading the truth won't do

Whose side are you on? Which constituency do you represent? What truths have you to tell that those who have suffered in this national tragedy do not already know? Tell me something: how much did your latest trip to the UK and the US cost our country? You have employed the services of a firm of public relations consultants (GJW Government Relations Ltd of 64 Clapham Road, London SW9) to give your government a better image - a euphemism, I suspect, for subverting the truth about events back home? You have claimed that you are not paying - so tell us who is, and in return for what? Do you know what an ugly picture the war-ravaged areas of Sierra Leone present? No amount of PR cosmetics can cover up the scars of that damage?

You have demanded to see every newspaper that comes out in the country to be on your desk at 8 A.M. before any Sierra Leonean sees them. What arrogance! What a bully you are? Your government has been lying through the teeth about every incident throughout the duration of this war. Ordinary people ridicule you because what you put out in your statements does not tally with what they see daily with their own eyes, smell with their own noses, and feel in their guts. If they have turned to the BBC, which you recently attacked, for information, that's because its reports, rather than yours, confirm their own experiences on the ground. When did you last visit up-country to see things for yourself? I reckon that if and when you do, you would be provided with a heavily guarded convoy.

They say you are the 'Mr Fix it' for the NPRC! What are you fixing? For whom? Whose interests are you protecting? I know that you are not fixing it for the children of Sierra Leone because you quietly brought yours to the UK where they are attending well equipped schools, far from the turmoil in our beleaguered country. So much for your hypocritical concern for Sierra Leone. Oh! By the way, your former friend and client Jamil Said Mohamed sends you glad tidings!

Where were you when, as Attorney General, the NPRC murdered 29 Sierra Leoneans? Take a leaf from Franklyn Bai-Kargbo the former Attorney General who could no longer stand the hypocrisy of your comrades in the NPRC. They threatened his life because he stood his ground and would not let them commit another murder in the name of the Law. He left the country in a hurry and is here with us in the UK. I salute his courage.

But you clearly feel comfortable staying with them. I just wonder why. Some of your colleagues keep saying that you ought to know better. May be they thought too highly of you. I never did but then I do not know you and do not wish to now.

Yours ever

Look who's complaining now!
This NPRC government is bad for Sierra Leone. Yet another Minister, Captain Karefa-Kargbo - the one whose father was appointed as Ambassador to US - is complaining about civil servants not pulling their weight. A case of `Monkey wok, baboon eat'? They waste money on glamorous lifestyles and then expect the rest of the population to do their bidding to help them maintain it. Why should experienced and deserving civil servants who have been by-passed in NPRC appointments pull their weight when useless and illiterate people with no understanding of how government functions, are appointed to sit over them? Just like putting square pegs into round holes! Look at the appointments to diplomatic posts. How can the country gain respect with the type of mediocrities that have been posted to these missions. You select people not of merit but because they are your father, brothers, in-laws, school mates, or simply that you hang out at the same pot-smoking digs.

A Government of Junkies
One reason - probably a fundamental one - why we lack cohesion and substance in national policy is the calibre of people in government today. Many of them are habitual junkies. We cannot have a government in which some ministers glamorise and, by personal example, encourage the habitual taking and smoking of drugs - in this case cannabis, locally known as diamba. That's how government has come to be devalued. It also explains the loss of respect for authority. The weed rules in the corridors of power in Sierra Leone.
  Of course what people do in private is surely their business but those who claim to be the conscience of our nation must have certain standards of public propriety. Some senior NPRC officials can regularly be seen chomping on neatly rolled up cigars ... sorry, joints.

A personal tragedy
My home, Serabu, has finally succumbed to the long standing threat by `rebels' to enter and destroy it. At 2.30 a.m. on Friday 25 February, persons in military gear entered the town and burnt down 47 houses in the town centre. Initial radio reports had claimed that "the family home of the Archbishop of Freetown and Bo" - our home - had been rased to the ground. In fact it was spared as were the RC mission house and school, the two convents and their schools, and the hospital - the pride of the town. Not that this gives me any consolation. Like most towns in Sierra Leone, Serabu is a close-knit family town and any tragedy that befalls one family is a tragedy for everybody.
  The tragedy of Serabu is not unique. It has happened before in hundreds of villages and towns across Sierra Leone. In every case the story is the same. What is painful is the fact that you know it is going to happen but you are powerless to do anything about it. How much longer will ordinary people, who have no involvement in politics and the power game, have to put up with this senseless track of mindless destruction? 
  A small band of rebels are still occupying the town thus preventing the inhabitants from returning to their homes. There is every chance that they will return to continue their destructive trail. Serabu is not out of the woods yet. 
 
 



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