''All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing'' - Edmund Burke


S I E R R A  H E R A L D

Vol 10 No 2

The tendency sometimes to protect perpetrators for the sake of peace...doesn't help society. Impunity should not be allowed to stand. - Kofi Annan on Waki report

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Sunday June 2, 2013 - Sixteen years ago today, a master stroke was delivered by the AFRC Mk1 propaganda machine as international news agencies and "experts on conflicts and crisis management" swallowed hook, line and sinker the great lie that Freetown had been bombed by Nigerian forces trying to oust the illegal and murderous AFRC forces that had seized power from the democratically-elected government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. It was a master stroke in deception, murder and chicanery.Former Nigerian Foreign Minister Tom Ikimi - he was a target for kidnapping by the junta in Sierra Leone in 1997.

Residents of Freetown who were around after the May 25, 1997 APC-inspired coup can still recall the sounds of heavy weapons which seemed to be coming directly from the waters surrounding Sierra Leone's capital. The sounds were characteristic of the heavy and dull thud residents in the capital were now getting used to as the coup makers tried to justify their hold on power, using any and every excuse that some of their sometimes drunken mouth pieces could manage on the SLBS, the national radio broadcaster. There was the voice of one Gborie, followed by another called Paul Thomas and soon followed by others claiming to speak on behalf of Sierra Leone's "new liberators".

On Monday, June 2, 1997 a combined force of murderous, heavily-armed and machete-wielding and out of control renegade soldiers of the Johnny Paul-led Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, the AFRC and their dreaded allies of the Revolutionary United Front launched a sustained and withering attack on the seaside Mammy Yoko Hotel with the aim of dislodging Nigerian and other ECOMOG forces that had taken up defensive positions around and within the hotel, protecting civilians and other such foreign nationals that were trapped there.

One CNN report stated -

"Heavy shelling from Nigerian gunboats rocked Sierra Leone's capital Monday morning in an apparent attempt to drive out coup leaders who took over the country on May 25. Talks between the military coup leaders and Nigerian and British diplomats broke down Sunday night. West African nations, led by the Nigerians, had been trying to persuade coup leader Maj. Johnny Paul Koroma to turn the country back over to now-exiled President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. Nigeria, Ghana and Guinea have been amassing troops in Freetown since the coup, signaling their willingness to use force if Kabbah -- elected in 1996 to replace another military government -- is not returned to power. A Nigerian commander said his troops took over the international airport north of the city Monday morning after a short firefight with Sierra Leone troops. The Lungi airport had been under joint control since the coup but will now be used to bring in reinforcements, the commander said."

Meanwhile a US State Department briefing note had these observations -

"SIERRA LEONE -- Over the weekend, U.S. Marines evacuated some 1,300 foreigners -- including 400 U.S. citizens -- from the capital of Freetown, Dinger reported. Some 12 to 30 Americans along with 200 other foreigners are thought to remain huddled in the basement of the Mammy Yoko Hotel, and a third evacuation remains a possibility, Dinger said. About 2,000 Nigerian troops are providing security to the airport and government buildings under the auspices of the military arm of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which is comprised of 16 African nation members. Dinger noted that "the Nigerian forces appear to be in a defensive posture near the installations and buildings that they have been securing against attacks by the rebels." He added that the Nigerian troop commander has been conducting discussions with the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) which leads the rebel fighters. "The United States is using all diplomatic channels available to urge the rebels to quit and restore the democratically elected government of Sierra Leone," Dinger said."

One time ECOWAS Chief Scribe and Foreign Minister one Abass Bundu of Sierra Leone came out later with what he believed was a document aimed at convincing the international community that Nigeria was up to no good in Sierra Leone. He was effectively playing into the hands of the junta and he did not blink an eyelid as he wrote

"Tens of people have been killed and hundreds more wounded, most of them innocent civilians, by Nigeria’s naval bombardment of the City of Freetown on Monday, 2 June. Indications suggest that she is planning to launch an even bigger military attack against the City. As a result of the rebel war in the hinterland of Sierra Leone, the civilian population has been compelled to seek refuge in Freetown and other urban centers to the extent that it is estimated that more than half of the country’s population of 4 million people now reside in Freetown and its environs. It is thus the civilian population that would be the predominant victim of any military action by Nigeria."

One academic Zak-Williams is quoted in one publication -

"1997 (from June): Victims of shelling by Nigerian warships. Nigerian troops opposed the coup and used force to try to return President Kabbah to power. In June Nigerian warships and jets shelled parts of Freetown in order to defeat the AFRC. They killed civilians and destroyed houses as a result (Zack-Williams, 1999: 158;)"

Of course, as those on the ground will tell you - the killings were done by the junta and they did not spare the civilians who had been forced into singing "We want peace" as human shields. It was a deliberate murder plan to kill and maim as many civilians as they could and put the blame on the Nigerian troops and so have the international community lean on Nigeria to withdraw the country's troops from Sierra Leone. Those who witnessed the deliberate murder of civilians from houses around the Wilkinson Road/Wilberforce and Aberdeen axis could not help but wring their hands in despair as the helicopter gunship used in action against civilian targets went into operation against unarmed civilians again while armed junta operatives mingled within the unsuspecting civilian crowds.

The Sierra Herald carried a true account of what happened on the ground that fateful day as junta forces and their sympathisers, blowing the trumpets of deception higher and louder weaved, created and exploded tons of propaganda bombs aimed at getting the Nigerian contingent serving with ECOMOG out of the country. (Some key components of the junta propaganda machinery are now very active in the Ernest Bai Koroma setup) The junta forces saw the Nigerians as the last bastion of defence on behalf of the majority of trapped and frightened civilians who had so far refused to recognise or indeed cooperate with the junta. The civilians refusedto go back to work as ordered by the junta, refused to attend educational institutions and refused to hobnob with a group bent on teaching civilians a lesson. With the Nigerians out of the way, the junta's plan was to create hell on earth for the unarmed and defenceless civilians who would have been murdered in their thousands in an orgy of rape and mindless violence.

What stood between them and the defenceless and unarmed civilians was the Nigerian army and the propaganda coup of June 2, served the junta's aim of having pressure put on the Nigerian troops to leave Freetown. Had that ploy worked and the Nigerians had packed up and left, things would have changed dramatically - for the worst scenario - but the Nigerian troops who had served and were based within the Sierra Leone army knew the type they were dealing with and their superiors in Nigeria refused to buckle sending a message to the junta that should they continue to attack Nigerian troops and Nigerian civilians, Johnny Paul and his RUF allies would pay dearly for their intransigence.

Even Sierra Leone's veteran politician, the one and only Dr John Karefa-Smart was taken in by the junta propaganda and true to form, not wanting any pogrom in which innocent civilians would be murdered in what he was served as Operation Wild Goose chase pleaded with the international community to have Nigerians leave Sierra Leone so that Sierra Leoneans "could solve their own problems using truly unique Sierra Leonean methods". He never realised he was eating from the palms of a murderous ogre.

It is worth noting that during those trying times, the international community was with the people of Sierra Leone. ECOWAS, the regional body condemned and refused to recognise the junta, as did the Organisation of Africa Unity, the OAU when it met under the Chairmanship of President Robert Mugabe. The United Nations Security Council added its voice too -

"Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations,

1. Demands that the military junta take immediate steps to relinquish power in Sierra Leone and make way for the restoration of the democraticallyelected Government and a return to constitutional order;
2. Reiterates its call upon the junta to end all acts of violence and to cease all interference with the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the people of Sierra Leone;
3. Expresses its strong support for the efforts of the ECOWAS Committee to resolve the crisis in Sierra Leone and encourages it to continue to work for the peaceful restoration of the constitutional order, including through the resumption of negotiations;
4. Encourages the Secretary-General, through his Special Envoy, in cooperation with the ECOWAS Committee, to assist the search for a peaceful resolution of the crisis and, to that end, to work for a resumption of discussions with all parties to the crisis;
5. Decides that all States shall prevent the entry into or transit through their territories of members of the military junta and adult members of their families, as designated in accordance with paragraph 10 (f) below, provided that the entry into or transit through a particular State of any such person may be authorized by the Committee established by paragraph 10 below for verified humanitarian purposes or purposes consistent with paragraph 1 above, and provided that nothing in this paragraph shall oblige a State to refuse entry into its territory to its own nationals;"

At one point, the junta got so desperate in the search for international recognition that it hatched a plan that would have seen the Nigerian Foreign Minister at the time, a critic of the junta kidnapped should he set foot again in Freetown while conducting negotiations with the junta. Tom Ikimi was to have been held hostage in exchange for the freedom of one Foday Saybana Sankoh who had been arrested and detained in Nigeria. The plan was to have been executed by a certain Solomon Musa (SAJ) who had left the United Kingdom to join the rapists and murderers in Freetown but Nigerian intelligence got wind of the plan and Tom Ikimi stayed away - away from the bloody maws of the junta.

Just so we do not forget - kindly allow us to remind you of one key event during those dark days in Sierra Leone. One evening, on national SLBS TV which was limited to Freetown in terms of coverage, junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma told viewers that something wonderful would soon happen in Sierra Leone that would show just how just it was for them to seize power. He did not elaborate. We knew then that he had been assured that at least one ECOWAS country, Burkina Faso under Blaise Capaore would be breaking ranks with other members and together with one or two countries with similar ideas would be officially recognising the junta. That did not materialise. The next hope of the junta was anchored on Burkina Faso taking over the Chairmanship of ECOWAS from Nigeria so that from that position of strength ECOWAS countries would be seen as officially recognising the junta in Freetown. That never worked.

The reason? Nigeria had all along known about Blaise Campaore and the role he was playing in keeping the junta in power and so at the meeting where Nigeria was to have handed over the Chairmanship of ECOWAS to Burkina Faso, Nigerian Head of State Sani Abacha refused to budge and gave Nigeria another term until the Sierra Leone problem was solved.

Not a whimper of protest from Burkina Faso's Blaise Campaore for to have angered Nigeria would have spelt doom for him especially as supporters of the mercurial and popular Thomas Sankara had still not forgiven him for his alleged role in the murder of their hero Thomas Sankara.

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The right choice is Kevin McPhilips Travel

©Sierra Herald 2002