WHILE THE COUNTRY BLEEDS TO DEATH, THEY TALK ABOUT ELECTIONS
EVERYDAY, some place in Sierra Leone is burning. Elsewhere there is profuse bleeding. Citizens up and down the country are slaughtered daily. Thousands have been routed from their homes. The countryside is littered with ghost towns and the anonymous skeletons of the dead. Those who are lucky to escape with dear life dare not return because the heartless butchers are ensconced in the ruins of their once vibrant enclaves. The killers will not budge until they have destroyed everything and anybody in their sight.
You would think, therefore, that sensitive people would, for a moment, spare just a passing thought for such victims who, having been flushed out of their communities, are now living in the undergrowth of bushes that have become home for them and their families. Especially at this time of the year - the rainy season - when they will have no protection from the elements. Fancy being wet, day and night, and the cold and misery that it can cause for such vulnerable people.
Imagine also a mother trying to muffle the cries of her baby or sick child in the darkness of night, amidst the foliage, fearing that their hiding retreat may be exposed to lurking gunmen occupying their village nearby. Yes, out there in the countryside, there is a drifting mass of destitute and muted humanity. Imagine the anxiety they suffer all night, the sleepless hours and, at the end of it all, the thought that the next day and night will be no different from the present.
We are talking here about real people - about hundreds of thousands of ordinary men, women and children across the face of the country. They are citizens of Sierra Leone with as much right as anyone else in the country. They, too, are the electorate of Sierra Leone. And guess what the NPRC have in store for them - Elections! Multi-party politics! Oomph!
We are witnessing a case of premeditated genocide by default and neglect. The dim wits in Freetown - the NPRC, their friends and advisers - are talking about holding elections while the fighting intensifies. Their guru James Jonah has reaffirmed that the "elections" will go ahead, come what may! - a reassurance that is as hollow as his floundered mediation in the Somalia debacle just over two years ago.
Surely if the violence had been on the wane, there might have been a legitimate case for this experiment with the electorate. But as our report on page 4 (Chronicle of Violence ..) shows, the violence has anything but petered out. As argued in Focus Vol 1 No 6, the decision to invite politicians into the fray without preparing a proper groundwork is a recipe for chaos - an invitation to argument, opportunism and discord.
Consider this comment by a displaced lecturer from Njala University College, in a letter to FOCUS dated 27 April 1995: "The ban on political parties has been lifted today; the wisdom of this move still baffles us. There is however a bit of activity around town with old political allies reassuring each other of their loyalty. The rest of the population are either lukewarm about it or completely resigned to their fate. The rebels on the other hand are still advancing."
One would have hoped that politicians with sense and foresight could have brought their various party Executives together to discuss their strategy. They could have issued a joint statement advising the NPRC that while they wished to participate in a future democratic franchise, now was not the time when the country was ill-at-ease with itself. They should have given the lead to the electorate by advising them not to take part in a farcical manoeuvre. That's what statesmanship is all about - taking those decisions that do not necessarily lead to personal advantage but promote the general wellbeing of the country and ALL its citizens.
They could have further pressed, in unison, for the establishment of a Government of National Unity in which their Parties and other deserving groups including the warring factions would all have been involved. Only a government of that complexion could have the credibility, clout and confidence to take fresh and bold initiatives to secure lasting peace.
Assuming that the elections go ahead, what guarantee is there for the personal safety and protection of candidates and their electors against the malcontents in our armed forces, not to mention the RUF which is determined to disrupt them? Our politicians have thrown all caution to the wind and thus missed a golden opportunity to demonstrate what, if any, political maturity they have gained since the coup of April 1992. They have clearly gained none. Sierra Leone is still the poorer.
As for Strasser and his government, the unpalatable truth is that they have failed the country. They are one of many impediments to peace. The reason why sensible men and women have been arguing for a Government of National Unity is so that a new path to peace can be laid which bypasses the current highway of megalomaniac posturing, on both sides, that have led to stalemate. Those who want genuine peace should be allowed to have an impact. The NPRC's refusal to withdraw from the scene gracefully is in defiance of wiser counsel. We cannot continue to blame RUF intransigence alone when right under our noses we continue to witness comparable shiftiness on the part of the NPRC.
HOLD FIRE ON THESE ELECTIONS. LET US ADDRESS THE ISSUE OF LASTING PEACE FOR SIERRA LEONE. LET US EXPLORE ALL AVENUES BY INVOLVING ALL WHO CARE. THE RUF, THE NPRC, LOCAL AND INTERNATIONAL PEACE BROKERS MUST RETHINK THEIR STRATEGIES AND FOCUS ON HOW TO ESTABLISH PEACE AND RETAIN THE NATIONAL INTEGRITY AND UNITY OF SIERRA LEONE. IT MUST NOT BE PREDICATED ON HOW TO GAIN (RUF) OR RETAIN (NPRC) POWER. LET US PUT THE NATION AND ITS SURVIVAL FIRST!
RUF COMES IN FROM THE COLD TO PLEADITS CASE TO `FOCUS'
After years of keeping the nation and the world in suspense about its motives, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) has finally recognised the need for "its case to be heard" - and be heard in the right quarters. Accounts of the civil war in Sierra Leone have inexorably been replete with accusation and counter accusation, with the RUF clearly losing the propaganda battle. The violence, indeed most of it, has been placed squarely at its door. Various attempts by it to dispel these and other charges have, at best, been feeble and unconvincing.
But now the RUF says it wants to put its own case. Focus on Sierra Leone has been contacted at various times over the last three months, mainly by Mr Alimamy Bakarr Sankoh but in this edition it is the letter of the RUF's PRO, Mr Ibrahim Jalloh, dated 13/5/95 and addressed to the editor of Focus that is reproduced below, unedited. Readers will no doubt have their own views about its contents. Jalloh writes:
"I have been reading with keen interest your Focus on Sierra Leone. I wish to thank you very much for your initiative and your patriotic spirit. There are very few of your kind who, even though so far away from home, can show concern for the happenings there.
I am happy, I am able to contact you through Alimamy Bakarr Sankoh, Political and Foreign Relations Coordinator of the RUF. This contact will give the RUF a golden opportunity to give its own side of the story to people like you, who are concerned. Because of the RUF's inability to defend itself against the mass media propaganda, it has been painted black by the NPRC and its collaborators. The inability to inform and educate the world was due to the fact that, it has been completely cut from contact with the outside world. It was only in December 1994, when Alimamy and I were able to sneak out of the country. Since then, we have been able to inform and educate the world and those who are interested or concerned.
In my capacity as the Public Relations Officer for the RUF, I am taking the opportunity to brief you on some of the major issues about the conflict.
During the regime of Siaka Stevens and later Momoh, corruption became endemic. Economic stagnation and social decay became the hallmarks of their regimes. Things became so hopeless that Sierra Leoneans in every corner of the country cried for a revolution to change the system, but little did anybody envisage the nature of the revolution. There was wishful think-ing that the revolution would come overnight and by daybreak all the ills of the regime would have been swept away. The system became so entrenched that there was no way anybody could have caused its demise. The so-called intellectuals and all other pressure groups became collaborators of the system. The armed forces, particularly the army, were impotent to act.
It was against this background that patriotic Sierra Leoneans of all shades of opinions came together under the leadership of Corporal Foday Sankoh to challenge the decadent system. It became too obvious that even the so-called multi-party elections were not going to radically change the system because it was the same corrupt politicians, who were going to change sides by forming new political parties. In fact the APC was not going to stand by to see its defeat at the polls.
The corruption in Sierra Leone has taken such alarming proportions that elections alone will not change the greedy and corrupt attitudes of the politicians. The only panacea is a radical revo-lution to overhaul the system in all its ramifications. The RUF took the armed struggle to liberate the nation from economic stagnation, social decay and repressive rule.
When the young officers took power in 1992, the RUF offered them the "olive branch" but this was arrogantly rebuffed by Captain Strasser. Even though they hijacked the RUF revolution, the leadership of the RUF was prepared to strike a compromise to stop the carnage. We all know that the soldiers have never brought in genuine and permanent changes; instead they have become more corrupt and dictatorial than the civilian regime they replaced.
It will interest you to learn that the RUF is not a band of bandits or terrorists but a well organised liberation movement poised to restore democracy and economic prosperity to Sierra Leone. The RUF enjoys massive and unflinching support from the masses. But for this massive support, the RUF would have been flushed out of the country long ago.
Be informed that most of the atrocities committed are carried out by the NPRC troops and their foreign collaborators and not by the RUF. Towns and villages are burnt down, zinc covers are removed from houses and sold in the Republic of Guinea. Civilians accused of being collaborators with the rebels are killed.
Nigerian alpha jets and Guinean artillery pieces are causing irreparable damage to infrastructures and lives. In 1992, 48 civilians were killed in Pendembu by the jet bombers. Frankly speaking the rebels do not suffer casualties from the bombing; it is the civilians, who get the brunt of the bombing and the artillery bombardment. The pilots and the artillery men are all foreigners so they have no remorse for the wanton destruction of lives and property. Recently the power house at Sierra Rutile mines and other vital installations were destroyed by one of the alpha jets. Civilians, who seek refuge in the bushes, when spotted, are taken to be rebels and bombed.
Because of the NPRC's inability to flush the rebels as it has earlier promised, it has resorted to telling lies to the nation and the world by claiming that in each encounter with the rebels, so many rebels are killed. If these claims are true, there would have been no rebels by now. All the atrocities claimed to have been "committed by the rebels and their foreign collaborators" are mere propaganda to save face. It will indeed surprise you to learn that since the struggle started, the RUF has not bought a single gun, ammunition or other equipment like communication radios. What the rebels have, and use against the Sierra Leone soldiers is what they have captured from them. The RUF has captured more than ten anti-aircraft guns, 50 calibre guns and more than three thousand assault rifles of all kinds.
There is no foreign support or outlet for the RUF. Guinea has troops in the country so the RUF cannot use Guinean soil for its own shipment; on the Liberian side, ULIMO is in Lofa and Cape mount counties, so no outlet either. Even if there is a godfather, there is no way through which arms and ammunition can reach the RUF because we are hemmed in by hostile neighbours!
The RUF is not fighting to force the people of Sierra Leone to accept Foday Sankoh as their leader and it has no intention to form a political party. The RUF is just an instrument of change. At the end of the day, it is entirely the responsibility of the Sierra Leoneans to devise a system that will fulfil their aspirations. Let it also be known that the RUF is not against a negotiated peace settlement. It is the Junta that is not treating the situation seriously. The junta knows very well that if the foreign troops leave today, tomorrow it will not be in power. People like John Benjamin, Dr Abass Bundu, Mr James Jonah and others are ill-advising the junta for their own selfish interests. They know that it is not Freetown that is being destroyed but the provinces.
The idea of conducting elections is a complete farce because no sane person will ever imagine that a country devastated by war and half of the population displaced either internally or externally can conduct elections. This is a design to hold on to power indefinitely. If the junta was serious about a negotiated settlement, it could not have mobilized more Nigerians and Guinean troops and mercenaries from South Africa, Britain and Nepal.
If journalists are allowed to visit the frontline, the truth about the conflict would have been clear to you, particularly the hopeless performances of the NPRC troops. Many foreign journalist have written to me expressing the desire to visit Corporal Foday Sankoh but unfortunately there is no way to get to him, because Guinea and ULIMO will not allow them to pass through their territories.
The students in Kambia were not forced to join the rebels. They, themselves, volunteered. They have seen that education is meaningless now. In the first place, it is very expensive and at the end of it there is no employment. Even university graduates have no openings for jobs. The only opening is in the teaching field where conditions of service are poor and salaries are delayed for months on end or not paid at all.
The truth about the war is known only behind rebels lines because every success or failure is reported accurately. The security of the nation is in the hands of the RUF and not the NPRC junta. The RUF can hit anywhere at anytime. The boys could have entered Freetown long ago if they wanted to, but it is not a target for now because of its heavy civilian population. The RUF knows that the junta can do anything to survive, so if Freetown is hit many people will die. And we do not want that!
I hope I have thrown some light on some issues and will keep you informed about other issues in future.
"DOGS OF WAR" AND THE UNANSWERED QUESTIONS
The civil war in the country has been muddied with the introduction of "Dogs of War" - mercenary forces - into the conflict. To date there are Gurkhas from Nepal and Group 4 security per-sonnel from Britain. Last Sunday saw the arrival of an South Africa-based elite corps of veterans of the Angola and Namibia civil wars. The nationality of the "dogs" believed to be fighting in the various mercenary groups includes Russians, Ukrainians, Americans, British, and South Africans. One notable casualty in an action against the RUF was Colonel Bob Mackenzie, a former US Special Forces Officer, who was commander of the Gurkhas in Sierra Leone. The word is that most of the gurkhas have left as they were a complete failure. They were believed to have been on
the payroll of the NPRC, whose members bore the cost, individually and collectively. Group 4 was allegedly hired by the Sierra Rutile Mining company at whose sites they are believed to have been deployed. The South Africans who were recruited by the South African company Executive Outcomes, probably at the behest of the De Beers mining conglomerate, have been seen driving around Freetown, in their own jeeps, wearing Sierra Leone army fatigues. Otherwise they came with their own war paraphernalia. They are replacing the gurkhas. The government claimed that they will train our troops in the art of guerilla warfare. But as we understand it, their real task now is to blast the "enemy" - in short, anything in their sight like they used to in Namibia and Angola. With no interest in, or affinity to the indigenous population, any black face they come across will become a target. How will they distinguish fleeing refugees from rebels?
A few facts can be sifted from this morass: In the first place, it is undeniable that where the country is threatened with disintegration as ours is, every legitimate step must be taken by those in authority to ensure that the threat is removed effectively. That, however, does not mean the introduction of factors that are counter productive in creating further chaos, confusion and uncertainty. Secondly, the Sierra Leone economy has neither the means nor the capacity to afford and sustain these activities. So therefore we are entitled to ask, and will continue to pursue answers to, the following questions:
Whose and what interests are these people there to protect? What are the terms of reference under which these potentially nasty people are being invited and drafted into the country? Under whose authority do they operate? Where does the ultimate control over them - their deployment and assignment lie? To whom do they owe allegiance and loyalty? Is it to their paymasters or to the government - the representatives of the people of Sierra Leone?
Why is it that they were not introduced when, at the height of the war, people up country were been massacred daily? Why now, all of a sudden, does it become necessary to bring them in? Is it perhaps to protect some extraneous vested interests? Because so far, they have made no impact on the war out there in the country. So are they being deployed now only because certain individuals feel threatened? Is it a case that "Oh well it was alright while the buggers were being blasted out of their hovels up country but we can't have it happening over here"? Is it because the war is so close to those in power that in order to save their skin they have felt the need for mercenaries?
Last week, the South African deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad voiced his disapproval of the recruitment of his country men for the war in Sierra Leone, fearing that it might encourage them to attempt to destabilise their own budding democracy when they return home.
Now however we hear that Nigeria - a patently undemocratic regime in the West African sub region which is not supported even by its own population - is poised to despatch over another 1,000 troops to Sierra Leone, in addition to the 900 already based there since 1991, to protect "Nigerian equipment". The announcement was made by Major General Abdul Salaam Abubakar, that country's Chief of Defence Staff. What equipment do the Nigerians have in Sierra Leone that needs an extra 1,000 troops to protect? Diamond mining installations, perhaps? One only has to look over the border to see how the crooks among them have stripped the Liberian infrastructure to its bare bones under the guise of enforcing peace!
By the end of last week Guinea had sent a total of 650 troops to augment the 1200 already in the country. The latest batch of 200 were reported, by a senior military spokesman who preferred to remain anonymous, to be meant for the personal protection of Captain Strasser in his residence at Kabassa Lodge. (We understand he does not sleep there anyway!) This was denied by the government which, while confirming the arrival of the troops, said that they were just replacing a similar number that had returned home after completing their tour of duty. But according to our own sources the government is lying yet again. The Guineans are being paid $400 per month. 5 were killed last week and two blew themselves up when they accidentally detonated a grenade at Parliament Buildings this week, damaging part of the building. The whole building has now been surrounded by sandbags.
The mystery in all this is the extent of Ghana's
military involvement - a role which they have denied and is,therefore,
hard to quantify. However, there are close political ties with NPRC members
who would like to emulate the Ghanaian experience. At least one close associate
of President Jerry Rawlings is actively providing advice for politically
ambitious NPRC officials on how they can go about changing from military
into civilian rulers. ?
Mid-April to May
A CHRONICLE OF VIOLENCE
..... AND SUFFERING
The start of the period saw a spill-over from the spiralling violence of the previous month. By the middle of May there was some respite which encouraged some civilians to risk taking to the main highway, but only for brief moment. By the end of the period there was a dramatic escala-tion in the number spectacular raids by the RUF, leading to the deaths of scores of civilians and soldiers of both sides.
Some claims by the RUF that they had attacked areas even closer to the capital proved to be false. For example, they did not get to York where they said they had been and uncovered mass graves. They do not seem to have advanced beyond Waterloo. What is certain, about which there was official misinformation, is that they got as far as Newton, Hastings and a few settlements like Pa Lokko, Ma Santigie, Joe Town, and Joe Water. Their advances from, and apparent control of the surrounding terrain has effectively confined government troops to the main Freetown - Bo highway.
Rebel raids near the capital having lost steam, they instantly opened a fresh window of hostilities in the far eastern corner of the country. It now appears that an earlier government claim that it had completely recaptured Kailahun Town, which we have carried in this paper, may not be quite so. Rebels are reported to be still in control in many towns in the East. It is significant that the RUF's recent communiques have been defiantly issued from a Kailahun address. Last April it reportedly held a War Council under its chairman, a Mr Solomon Rogers.
The new attacks, described as particularly mind numbing, were on Tongo Field, a diamond mining town where several people were killed. Moving down south to Mano Junction, which is on the road between Kenema and Panguma, they surprised and overwhelmed government troops killing 6 of them and at least 35 civilians. On 26 May they wheeled round north to Panguma, the scene of a previous massacre in which an Irish missionary Fr Felim McCallister and a Dutch couple Dr & Mrs Elko and their baby daughter Zita were mowed down. By all accounts, people had started returning to resettle in the town after the last upheaval. But when, at dawn, the rebels attacked this time, there was a prolonged battle with government troops during which both sides suffered severe casualties. Most of the town was rased to the ground and, according to some reports, at least 10 civilians were killed.
Earlier, a civilian convoy of 14 vehicles was ambushed at Mile 71 on the main highway. Eight civilians and two uniformed policemen were slaughtered. It is claimed that this particular attack was not by the RUF but a rebel group sympathetic to the APC who, it is believed, are nestling in the Mallal Plains to the north of Mile 91.
Tanker drivers on the highways appear to be bearing the thrust of these attacks. Three of them were killed three weeks ago. Their Trade Union has threatened to suspend services if they are not given adequate protection. The Lebanese Transport Owners Association also decided to pull its vehicles off the road following RUF threats to attack any vehicle plying the motorways.
The most telling event was the RUF's resumption of its bid to retake the diamond-rich Kono District. In November 1993, they captured the entire district and held it for several months before they were displaced by loyal troops. It has remained cut off from the rest of the country since that time. Two weeks ago they attacked again. First reports said over 170 people, mainly civilians, were killed. The government made an angry denial.
There was continuous fighting over the next three days with rebels claiming to control most areas in the district - a claim flatly disputed by the military. Local Civil Defence groups said that they were betrayed by certain soldiers. Two officers, suspected of serious misconduct, were arrested and brought to Freetown.
The RUF hit Yengema, Tombodu (where over 45 houses were burnt down), Koidu, Motema, Bumpeh and the road from there to Yengema which, according to those fleeing, was strewn with corpses. Government forces called in helicopter gun ships, Nigerian alpha jet bombers and heavy artillery but the rebels maintained their grip. Some government troops who were overtaken by the ferocity of the assault were reported to have surrendered to them. Gaia camp - a gravel washing site on the outskirts of Yengema, was seized by the rebels but government troops claimed to have recaptured it. Hundreds of homes were wrecked and valuable mining machinery destroyed beyond repair. Sections of towns, and acres of countryside are currently virtual no-go areas.
The battle in Kono bears the hallmark of a fight over the control of resources with everyone - the RUF, other rebel groups, loyal Sierra Leone soldiers, dissident soldiers, and diamond tycoons - fighting for territory. It has been claimed that the RUF, retinues of soldiers loyal to some of the most senior NPRC officers and, it is further alleged, Niger-ian soldiers, are all engaged in mining activities in areas throughout the South, East, and North East of the country. The RUF may have chosen this particular time to attack because they knew that this is the period when (diamond) gravel, heaped in the dry season, is washed in advance of the heavy rains. The battle is still raging as we go to press. ?
STOP PRESS The Military claimed a major success
against RUF. It reports that its "recently trained special rapid deployment
force", supported by helicopter gun ships, has wiped out a rebel base at
(see map), Bonthe District, South-ern Province. They say over 30
rebels, 2 solders and 5 civilians were killed.
(In April, Focus received a large number of letters, including many calls for help. Unfortunately, due to limited space, some will have to wait till next time.)
A 71 year old victim of the Joe Town attack (near
The rebels numbered about 500, including the commando leaders, some in military combat, others in plain clothes, youths in plain clothes, few in uniform, young girls in T-shirts and short pants, a suckling mother with two guns strapped on either side with the same lappa that kept the baby on her back.
These rebels move at a terrific speed which made it difficult for me to keep pace with them. On three occasions John, the rebel who was ordered to take charge of me, told me to get out of the line, and to let him finish me and ease my problem as I was disturbing others in the line. Rebels walk in a single line. Each time John told me to leave the line and let him finish me I begged him to spare my life. Being tired of pushing me with his hands, he then stuck the muzzle of his gun in my back and started pushing me till we reached our destination, an open field with three houses which had been looted. It was now 11pm.
On arrival at this village called Mokoray, which is on the upper part of Joe Town, John took me to one of the houses. I was afraid and begged him not to kill me. whilst inside the house he said "Look I have been told long ago to kill you, but as you are an old man I am sorry for you. Now get into this room. I will close the door, then you can find your way to escape."
I thanked and blessed him, and asked him to bring my daughter which he promised to do. He then left and closed the door. The window of the room was open in readiness for my escape, and light penetrated to where I was standing. In attempting to move to a safer side of the room, I kicked against a pan and the noise alarmed a commando. He came in switched on his torch and ordered me outside, at the same time corking his gun. I came out and found him at the doorway ready to shoot. I immediately fell on his feet and begged him not to kill me. His gun had a silkier knife which I thought he would thrust in my neck, but he did not harm me. He then called a youth rebel and told him to take charge of me. When we went outside this rebel told me to go into a dark corner and let him finish me. I begged him not to kill me. He then took me to the spot in the field where his mattress was spread, and lay down while I lay on the grass beside him.
I saw someone passing with water and begged to get a sip; he said if he had killed me I would not have needed water. Then he slept, but the whole night rebels were talking and keeping constant watch on me with their torchlight. At about 5am (Saturday 22 April) firing started from the government, but it did not bother the rebels. At 6am it was announced that all should get ready and join the line; the youth rebel told me to go and join the line and I went.
We were about to move when a small rebel told me to go with him into a store. I begged him not to kill me, he then grabbed me by the jacket and dragged me into a house and told me to sit on a bench in the house. He then closed the door and went away. All the doors and windows were closed. Shortly after I saw fire on the ceiling of the house and heard John and another rebel outside saying let us go and burn the kitchen and the other two houses, nothing should be left. The gang of rebels had gone by this time taking my 13 year old daughter with them. The fire in the house in which I was locked burned with alarming speed causing heavy smoke. The roof then caved in trapping me with heavy smoke and sparks. I nearly fainted. By this time John and the other rebel had gone for I heard no voices outside. Then I found myself outside the burning building - how, I could not tell; it is really a mystery. Finding myself outside I went to a nearby stream and washed my face to clear smoke from my eyes, and then drank water to cool the hot smoke gases from my lungs and stomach, as the heat had reached a point I had to breathe through my nose and mouth. At the stream I found a brown rice bag. I took off all my clothes and shoes and put them in the bag and tied it with palm. I put the bag on my head and wearing only my underpants walked barefooted and found my way home, alone as the rebels had gone with my daughter. At Joe Town I hurriedly took a bath and dressed with the intention of going to report to the soldiers at Newton.
A truck of soldiers came to Joe Town on patrol, so I reported to them. Instead of visiting the scene they took me to Newton and put me under hostile interrogation and cross-examination. Finally our soldiers, who have never attacked but only go after rebels when they have caused havoc and disappeared, told me that if they were to go to the scene I should go with them. I told them that if the rebels see me I will be the first person to be killed, therefore I would not go. I asked for Captain Yaya, and was told he was expected at any time; so I stayed and slept that night at Newton waiting for him.
The following day, Sunday 23 April, a Major came to Newton. I reported to him, but he said nothing and looked at me like an inferior creature, and left after a while. I reported to all the senior officers - Captain, Lieutenant, NCOs, but no action was taken. I left Newton the same day for Freetown in the afternoon. Here, I am undergoing treatment; my feet are swollen, I have difficulty breathing and my vision is now poor - the effect of the terrible smoke in the grave of fire from which God rescued me. My plight is pathetic. My house is in a shambles; I am displaced, sick, penniless and without a garment. Maybe someone out there can help. If so please let them know my tragic story.
(Name and address supplied)
Please keep pointing the finger at them
It's good to see that the peace march in London had a good turnout. We watched it on TV but the effects of it are still to be felt. The rebels are approaching the city and they continue to commit unbelievable atrocities. The last batch that attacked Waterloo had machine guns and very long swords. Whether these people are "ninjas" or not, God alone knows!
I really wish to commend you very much for the frank comments on, and analyses of, the burning national issues in "Focus On Sierra Leone". The editorial contents are quite revealing but, alas, will there ever be an enlightened reaction by the readership? Can we dare hope that it will produce the required positive attitude from the affected masses? We cannot, for now, and for a long time to come, think of shaping public opinion for a disciplined leadership and an enlightened citizenry. The mentality and attitude of the educated few would have improved considerably if only the objectives of (say) Tablet and SLAM had succeeded. People here get easily offended by constructive but candid criticism which are meant to change things for the better and improve the political and socio-economic life of our people. I pray that media channels like yours, the BBC, and others keep on pointing fingers at the corrupt and unpatriotic behaviour of those in authority. Eventually, there will be a change for the better for all and sundry. Terry D Jones, Jnr.
Freetown, Sierra Leone
Dr Bundu can't teach us a thing about democracy!
Is it not the case that the undemocratic military rulers of West Africa are afraid that a precedent might be set whereby a civilian is able to organise his people, using the very guns the military use, to remove a government - worse still a military one? Charles Taylor's is a case to the point because this would have been the inevitable consequence if he had succeeded in his venture. In the event he was stopped short of victory by the hastily contrived intervention of ECOMOG forces.
One therefore wonders whether a person like Dr Abbass Bundu should be propagating these leaders' cry for democracy in Liberia when he himself is actively supporting and serving, as Foreign Secretary, the military government of the NPRC in Sierra Leone. Prior to this he was a minister in the one party government of the despotic, inhume, corrupt and inept APC which brought Sierra Leone to bankruptcy and destroyed the socio-economic values and psyche of its citizens. He then served as Secretary General of ECOWAS, which is mostly a motley assembly of undemocratic military governments and leaders. Surely he cannot have much to teach us Sierra Leoneans about democracy!
A case of mistrust and vengeance by both sides
The latest upsurge in rebel activities has left every peace loving Sierra Leonean completely stunned as to reasons for this war. In spite of several peace moves by concerned citizens every where, and the efforts of the OAU, the UN, the Commonwealth and other organisations to bring about media-tion, the carnage by the RUF and the so-called rebels continues unabated, with renewed ferocity every day. The rebels have not responded positively to calls for the cessation of hostilities.
I watched a video of the destruction at Mile 91 and its environs. It revealed a horrendous picture, mirroring the destruction in other parts of the country. On careful reflection, I believe that there are two negative factors at work in this crisis: mistrust and vengeance. There is mutual mistrust between the Strasser government and the rebels - RUF et al. The NPRC sees the rebels as a band of ill-disciplined marauders carrying out the massacre of innocent civilians and the wanton destruction of property, without a political agenda. The abortive Mano River Bridge talks and the act of hostage-taking heightened the government's mistrust of the RUF.
The rebels, on the other hand, accuse the regime of kangaroo trials and the summary execution of suspected rebels and collaborators without the due process of the law - a clear violation of human rights. The involvement of other African troops - Guinean, Nigerian and Ghanaian - and the use of Nepalese gurkhan mercenaries further aggravates an already explosive situa-tion. Hence the RUF's demand for their withdrawal as a precondition for peace talks. Likewise, the inclusion of some former ministers of the ousted APC government against which the RUF launched its rebel war in March 1991 further undermined any trust they might have had in the NPRC.
But the fact that no territories are held permanently by these groups also reinforces the suspicion that theirs is a war of vengeance and personal vendetta, waged against a poor and defenceless population.
Captain Strasser's ploy to hang on to power in wooing the RUF to form a political party and his refusal to countenance the formation of a broad-based interim government of national unity will only prolong the stale-mate. The state of insecurity throughout the country makes travelling beyond Freetown a suicidal mission without a military escort. The towns like Songo, Newton and Waterloo have been raided. The only safe means of travel beyond these areas is by helicopter for those who can afford the fares, while the rest of the population are left at the mercy of the rebels. Economic activity is at a standstill. The prospects for agricultural production this, like last, season are nil. Mass starvation is therefore a probability and more deaths will occur as a result of the havoc caused by this war. In the light of the above may I humbly suggest the following:
(a) The international Community, regional bodies, the UN and other humanitarian and bilateral organisations must act in concert to strengthen the mediation process to bring about a ceasefire and the cessation of hostilities by providing a neutral forum for dialogue; (b) A broadly-based interim /transitional representative government should be set up to run the country for at least 3 years with UN collaboration; (c) Demobilisation and disarming of combatants and rehabilitation of the population, with facili-ties for psychological therapy for child soldiers; (d) The withdrawal of all mercenaries and the restriction of the role of all foreign troops solely to peace keeping and, where necessary, enforcement.
A M Fofannah
Ed. FOCUS is obviously going places - in this
case, La Côte D'Ivoire. This is a desperate cry from an unhappy family.
Would any reader who recognises Mr Andrew Davies from this description
please forward the information about his whereabouts urgently to The
Editor, Focus on Sierra Leone, 79 New Park Avenue, Palmers Green, London
N13 5NA, UK. You will be making 10 hapless souls regain the will to
NPRC SIGNS $900,000 DEAL WITH US PR COMPANY
A US company, PSC International Ltd, has been awarded a three-year contract to do public relations work for the NPRC. The news was confirmed by Mr David Porter, President of the company, who said that his firm "is primarily advising the NPRC and its Chairman Valentine Strasser on how to establish a democratic government". According to our sources, the firm will receive annual payments of $300,000 plus expenses under the terms of the contract. PSC Chairman, Jake Smith who heads the account, is described as "an African scholar". The company claims it was invited to handle the Sierra Leone business by contacts in London.
In Focus Vol 1 No 4, under the column Published
And Be Damned, allusion was made to the hiring of a PR firm GJW
Government Relations Ltd of 64 Clapham Road, London SW9, by the NPRC,
to give them a better image. The arrangements were made by the Minister
of Information, Mr Arnold Gooding. ?
LATEST NEWS... LATEST NEWS... LATEST NEWS (6/6/95)
ARMY COMMANDER CONTEH SACKED
Army Chief of Staff Brigadier Kelly Conteh has been compulsorily retired from the army "because of non-performance", according to a military press release, issued in Freetown today. He was blamed for the reverses suffered by government troops, notably the rebel take-over of the mines in the south as well as the recent Kono incursion. He is replaced by Brigadier Joy Turay who suffered a similar fate at the hands of the NPRC only last April, when he and 12 other senior and experienced officers including the then Force Commander Brigadier Jusu Gortor, were sent on compulsory retirement. The statement continued: "We need to have an army that has the respect and confidence of the entire nation, with officers and men that would go out to accomplish given goals."
MAJOR'S RESPONSE TO PEACE PETITION
A reply on behalf of British PM, John Major, to the petition presented at 10 Downing Street by the Sierra Leone Peace Forum during the Peace March of Saturday, 8 April 1995, has been received. The letter, addressed to Mr Ambrose Ganda who signed the petition on behalf of the Organising Committee of the Peace Forum, reads as follows:
Dear Mr Ganda,
COMPLICITY OF MEMBERS OF THE SIERRA LEONE ARMED FORCES
It is easy to blame every atrocity that occurs on the "rebels". But now it can be revealed that many incidents of violence have been the work of a large number of members of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces themselves - those traitors among them who obviously have an axe to grind. Some are supporters of the ousted APC government; others are hellbent upon avenging the death of army strong men Yaya Kanu and Dumbuya, and their other heroes whom Captain Strasser and the NPRC executed in December 1992; yet some others have disagreed with the way the NPRC revolution has gone and, because of their aversion to Strasser and what he represents, have vowed to make the country ungovernable. And there are those opportunistic miscreants who, in the prevailing state of anarchy, have taken the law into their own hands to settle scores, usurping, looting and destroying property out of sheer greed and envy of their neighbours.
In this melting pot of confused loyalties the RUF becomes the bogeyman partly by its own doing - because its forces also are killing and maiming innocent people, notwithstanding their hollow and hypocritical disclaimers.
But many refugees and victims are however convinced that the attacks on them have been carried out not by the RUF but by renegades from the national army who were deployed in their areas, ostensibly, to protect them. The NPRC knows who these people are but is unwilling to bring them to book. They are believed to have their godfathers right there in Freetown.
FOCUS has also recently been told of many instances when Sierra Leonean soldiers have opened fire on each other - by mistake or design - only then to blame the incident on RUF rebels. In one such incident, a group of soldiers were deployed in a large bushy area where RUF troop movements were detected. They were split into three platoons and sent on their way. Not long afterwards one of the squads opened fire on the other. It was a massacre but the news was hushed up. Some of the wounded are still in the military hospital at Hill Station. When events like these happen the casualties are described as "RUF rebels killed". It is happening so often that it has been officially though not publicly acknowledged as a major crisis for the army. On this occasion the men were clearly set up by elements within their company.
Morale among those loyal patriotic soldiers left in the arena is extremely low. Although Army HQ will not admit it, their best men are believed to be manifestly battle weary. Many no longer have the will to fight. Soldiers have refused to go to the war front and have even begged or bribed their way out of going because they are convinced that their colleagues - or, as has happened in at least two cases, their commanders - will betray them to the rebels. It has happened many times before.
Senior military officials are at pains to reassure their men when they go away on combat missions. They actually go round plead-ing with soldiers to volunteer for action at the war front, with the offer of extra inducements. Even when they do, some of them desert or just melt away into the bush and do not come back. Scores of others have joined the ranks of the RUF. ?
STOP PRESS Two senior officers brought to Freetown
from Kono disci- plined and demoted. About 35 rebels, some very young,
have been captured and brought to Freetown. Despite the most rigorous interrogation,
the authorities have so far extracted no information from them. Government
will rehabilitate them as a goodwill gesture to the RUF.
PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED ...
Ambrose GandaBeware the masqueraders for peace
In our desperate search for peace in Sierra Leone there are bound to be those who will try to use the present hostilities as a platform for political motives. It is important, therefore, that the identity of those who are claiming to be making peace on our behalf is made known to us - the nation - so that their credibility, suitability and influence can be assess-ed and endorsed. Naturally the whole nation does not wish to be involved in the details of peace negotiations. By their very nature, they must be conducted behind close doors, especially when delicate sources and contacts need to be protected. But we must be assured that those who negotiate on our behalf are people whom we know, trust and can vouch for.
So when a senior member of the former ruling APC - a party whose policies victimised Sierra Leoneans until it was overthrown in 1992 - becomes a "negotiator" on our behalf with the blessing of the NPRC while his identity is hidden from us, alarm bells must be sounded.
Mr Sembu Forna, an APC strongman, who held umpteen portfolios in successive governments including Finance and is currently a director of Sierra Fishing Company, has been on the elusive peace trail. Considering that not much success has come on the peace front lately, I am not in the least surprised. Mr Forna attended a Conflict Resolution Training Workshop in Dakar (Senegal) in February this year at which he claimed, in a letter to officials at the Commonwealth Secretariat, that he "held several meetings with A B Sankoh and ..... one of the facilitators of the workshop". He was selected on the basis of being "an informed and influential individual", according to the invitation. I do not have any problem with this because he is a very experienced and wise man, indeed.
He then had a meeting with the Secretary to the Chairman at State House and was invited to the Department of Defence on 3 April, to brief members of the Technical Committee of the National Security Council on "matters relating to your discussion with the RUF during your recent attendance of the Conflict Resolution Workshop in Dakar". In the end he met Captain Strasser himself.
At this point I despair of the man. Like a monkey hooked on its old tricks, Mr Forna took advantage of his new status to play the APC card for his former comrades. In a letter to Captain Strasser on 27 March soon after their meeting, he pleaded thus:
"Since I left you, Mr Chairman, ... my simple mind tells me that the starting point is with those aggrieved and disaffected people who are in Sierra Leone and largely within the confines of Freetown. I refer to those politicians and others who were detained and went through the most gruelling and humiliating Commissions of Inquiry, many of whom are still under house arrest. In the name of magnanimity and reconciliation, I appeal to you, Mr Chairman, to have these people released and set free to be able to go about their business ...
"It is my considered opinion, Your Excellency, that when you shall have brought on board all the discredited and humiliated politicians, former civil servants and others similarly disaffected, you would have succeeded in bringing together the strands that make the fabric of what is Sierra Leone society, which is no more than one big and extended family
"....With this group joining forces with (others) to make one Big Family this will not only reinforce your efforts but will certainly bring about peace and prosperity once and for all..."
To me this sounds like blackmail or else he is confusing two issues! Whom does Mr Forna represent? Is he telling us that unless we bring back the APC into the fold there will be no peace in Sierra Leone? If this is his assessment, let him say so. But why does he think only Freetown has disaffected people, considering the disappointment that the NPRC has proved to be in all areas of the country? And what did his Party do to assuage the disaffected members in the "one big and extended family" of Sierra Leone which their government neglected for 25 years?
These questions are extremely pertinent to our search for peace in Sierra Leone. There is a widely held belief that the APC has vowed to make a comeback and that its supporters are engaged in the fighting. Mr Forna, who would have us believe that he is not disaffected, must let us know how he thinks the involvement of his "disaffected" APC friends can help the process of peace. The war began while they were in power. They did very little or nothing about it. In fact some of them encouraged it to the extent that it served as a decoy to divert the attention of the people from their lousy performance in government.
FOCUS is already on record, pleading the case for forgiveness and reconciliation provided people own up to their past mistakes, purge their individual consciences for derailing this nation, and accept the fact that no one may ever again lord it over the rest of us. The NPRC has been a disaster but that does not let the APC off the hook. They are one and the same. The "discredited and humiliated politicians, (and) former civil servants" that Forna talks about, flouted the laws of the country. They had to answer for it. Unfortunately, the NPRC did not show even-handedness when it dealt with the matter. We all know how unfair the commissions of inquiry turned out to be. But that is a separate matter which should not be confused with the reason for the war and how to stop it. So if there are APC men out there causing trouble simply because they think they should be in power, Mr Forna should try and persuade them to lay down their arms. Where a (former) political party, or group of individuals, maintain that they have a God-given right to rule over us and that without their involvement there can be no peace in Sierra Leone, they forfeit the right to belong to our society. It is nothing short of blackmail and Captain Strasser should have told him so.
No place for religious and tribal `polytricks'
Which brings me to the even more dangerous proposition now being pursued by groups of misguided bigots who wish to play both the tribal and religious cards - two of the most dangerous catalysts that will forever ensure that peace, even if it comes now, will be short-lived. Their shadowy character forces me to sound another alarm bell before it is too late.
I hear that these groups are determined to turn Sierra Leone into an fund-amentalist Islamic State. They have allegedly received sympathy and funds from an assortment of radical Islamic States and a so-called moderate Arab country. One group wants a Muslim leader for Sierra Leone who belongs to the Temne tribe - a condition that is being put to the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) by some presidential hopefuls in that party, too!
For God's and Allah's sake, let us desist from this dangerous game play. Sierra Leone already has enough problems on its hands. See what turmoil tribalism and religion have caused on this planet. Must we make the same mistakes that others have made? We Sierra Leoneans have always had a fine religious mix - with Muslims, Christians, animists and other religions playing their fullest role, side by side, in our communities. Why further destabilise the country with this stupid, poisonous and bigoted idea?
As for the tribal origin of the next or future President(s)
of Sierra Leone, the very title says it all - President Of (All)
Sierra Leone - not of this or that tribe or province. If previous leaders
have shown a proclivity towards their own tribe, that is a fault of the
office holder and not the people. I should have thought, therefore, that
the best person - man or woman - should have the job irrespective of their
tribe, religion, and sex. That is plain common sense. Show me an honest,
patriotic, capable and resourceful Sierra Leonean and he or she will get
my vote any day!