''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 XI No 7

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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Monday May 25, 2015 - Dare we forget? They wish. No way. For it was on this day 18 years ago in 1997 that the beasts were let loose upon an unsuspecting nation that was testing out new democratic principles even as the RUF did its best to gain power by whatever means - murder, abduction, rape, arson and looting.

No one at that time will ever forget that Saturday night as it turned into a Sunday morning. The sounds of heavy firing could not be dismissed as another prank by unruly security forces testing their firearms. The intensity and sounds including loud explosions suggested that this was more than met the ear. Bewildered and frightened residents of the capital had no inkling of what was in store - that this was the beginning of a phase in the history of the capital and indeed the country as a whole that was the most bloody and cruel. This was the birth of a monster named the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, the AFRC.

What made many suspect that things were amiss was the constant play and replay of Christian religious tunes by an announcer on duty on the national radio station, the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service, the SLBS, who from his voice, was not so sure of what was going on, nor what to tell listeners. Things became clearer amid the continuing sounds of firing when a voice, sounding pretty incoherent and downright drunk announced in a language that was neither the lingua france krio nor the Queen's language - that the barely year-old democratically elected government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah had been overthrown.

It sounded quite unbelievable to the ears of many in the capital and throughout the country who had hoped that the 1996 General Elections would at last see the true end of four years of military rule of the National Provisional Ruling Council, the NPRC headed at first by one Captain Valentine Strasser and then after a late palace coup by his former deputy one Julius Maada Bio.

Older residents of the capital have heard the sounds of gunfire before - from the 1967/68 debacle through the various alleged coups announced by the Stevens and Momoh regimes to the Strasser takeover on April 29, 1992 - but this Sunday morning firing was by far the most intense with small arms fire and the sounds of explosions combining to create fear and uncertainty.

This uncertainty was further increased with the announcement by the coup leaders that the main prison, Pademba Road Prison, had been blown open and all the inmates freed. What made it even frightening was that hard core criminals including soldiers on various armed robbery, murder and other serious charges were re-armed and let loose upon the population. The massive looting that accompanied this was unprecedented. Shops were blown open, residents forced at gunpoint to part with valuables including vehicles. To refuse or argue meant instant death. Not even the diplomatic community was spared as UN and other agencies found their offices ransacked.

Again we would like to reiterate that the coup announced by one Staff Sergeant Gborie and whose unrecognised "government" became known as the AFRC headed by one Major Johnny Paul Koroma, who was on trial for an alleged coup attempt against the Kabbah government, was not a popular one. Many professional soldiers refused to be a part of the murderous and plundering mass of undisciplined mob that was a hallmark of the new men and women in power. And to swell their ranks and to make Sierra Leone ungovernable, this mob invited the murderous and human rights-abusing RUF, the Revolutionary United Front of Foday Sankoh to join them.

This is part of an account of the May 25, 1997 coup from the pages of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Sierra Leone.

"Later in the day there was a phone call from London to Major Johnny Paul Koroma by Omrie Goley the external spokesperson of the RUF, who said he had heard the radio broadcast calling on Sankoh to join the new government. He said that in the interest of peace he was going to make Sankoh’s phone number in Nigeria available to the coup plotters.

Major Johnny Paul Koroma then called Sankoh in the presence of some of the coup leaders such as “Zagallo” and Tamba Gborie. Major Koroma told Foday Sankoh that the war was over and invited Sankoh to take over the leadership of the new government. Sankoh replied that this was impossible since he was detained in Nigeria.

He commended the plotters for their nationalistic action in inviting the RUF to join the new government and requested that he wanted to relay a message to his fighters which he wanted recorded immediately. He gave his blessing to the new regime and called on all his fighters to come out of the bush and join the new government.

They were directed to henceforth take all orders from Johnny Paul Koroma. This statement was subsequently rebroadcast repeatedly on the state run radio station. The invitation to the RUF was justified as necessary to end the war."

This was the beginning of a complete breakdown of law and order that was unprecedented in the history of Sierra Leone.

Press freedom was curtailed and all journalists perceived as anti-AFRC/RUF were subjected to massive repression with arbitrary arrests and detentions.

Those in the good books of the rights-abusing regime were pampered with stolen cash, valuables, looted vehicles as well as fuel from military-controlled fuel outlets. It is interesting to note that the same cadre of AFRC/RUF-supporting "journalists" during those trying times are the same, with a new additions who are singing to high heavens the undemocratic moves by the rat at State House who we suspect, must have been a supporter of the beasts.

Here's a part of a report on what was in for journalists -

"As with other critics of the military coup and the AFRC, journalists soon became the targets for threats, ill-treatment, arrest and detention. On 3 July 1997 the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) issued a statement saying that it was committed to the restoration of democratic and constitutional rule and the speedy restoration of the elected government of Sierra Leone.

The same month SLAJ condemned the AFRC for its unprecedented harassment and intimidation of journalists.

During the week of 9 June 1997, some two weeks after the military coup, Ojukutu Macaulay, editor of The Quill newspaper and also the host of a live radio broadcast, "Good morning, Freetown", was reported to have gone into hiding after being confronted by a group of soldiers. Also in early June 1997 journalists working for For di People newspaper were threatened following articles critical of the AFRC.

A correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Sylvester Rogers , based in Makeni, Northern Province, was also reported to have gone into hiding in June 1997 after soldiers sought to locate him after he filed reports critical of the AFRC. Several months later, in early October 1997, he was reported to have been arrested and severely beaten and his passport seized.

In the weeks which followed, an increasing number of journalists were arrested and detained, apparently only because of undertaking their professional activities and legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression. Four newspapers critical of the AFRC closed down after receiving threats."

Journalists deemed to be critical of the regime were reported on by colleagues who were now aligned with the junta and used their connections with the rapists and murderers to have perceived anti junta journalists arrested, harassed and humiliated.

Let us remind you of an attack on a colleague who was perceived as a pro democrat and anti-junta. This is a part of Umaru Fofanah's account.

"As a young and curious stringer for the BBC, I decided to visit the burnt-out house to file an eyewitness account of the damage. At the house, which was close to the Juba military barracks, I was accosted by irate soldiers. I was arrested and accused of being a reporter for the clandestine 98.1 FM pro-democracy radio. They started slapping and hitting me in the head with rifle butts and helmets. One of them restrained the others from continuing the beating.

He asked me in Krio, the local parlance, whether I had filmed the burned out house. I protested to no avail. At this point they demanded to know my name. I hesitated before telling them. They seized my file from me to cross-check. As I was being dragged to their nearby check-point, one of them said in Krio: "Aha! He is that BBC reporter who says all bad things about us." Unfortunately, my file contained a copy of my newspaper, Vision, in which I had written an article titled "AFRC's Political Masturbation", with my by-line.

Seconds later I heard two gunshots. It took a while before I realised that I had been shot in my right leg -- the tibia bone was fractured. I couldn't walk any longer and so decided to hop on my left leg. They started hitting me again with their rifle butts and helmets. I fell several times, but was forced to get up as they kicked me with their boots.

I managed to hop until we reached their check-point. The others that were manning the post joined in the beating. I can vividly remember one of them attempting to pull his trigger on me when a sergeant stopped him, saying: "Don't kill him yet. He has some vital information to pass on to us."

This is the same evil outfit that committed grave human rights abuses against the civilian population from the time they illegally seized power, through when they were kicked out in February 1998 and their attempt to seize power using each and every brutal tactics including the infamous January 6, 1999 mass slaughter of some five thousand civilians.

The indiscriminate and deliberate shelling of civilian resident of Mabaylla in the east of the capital on the night of September3/4 1997 is well recorded.

One of the beasts in his testimony at the trial of Charles Taylor, their Liberian overlord is quoted as stating -

The witness testified that when he was in Masiaka on the retreat from Freetown in February 1998, he and various commanders heard Johnny Paul Koroma on BBC radio announcing “Operation Pay Yourself”. Sesay said Koroma explained that since being ousted from Freetown by ECOMOG forces he could no longer pay his soldiers, so he was ordering them to loot whatever they wanted from civilians. Sesay said that after that announcement there had been a “continuous looting spree”.

He admitted, “Between my God and myself, I participated in the looting”. He said that where he was, civilians were captured and forced to carry loads of looted goods to the town of Makeni. He also witnessed looting in Lunsar, and saw civilians being forced to carry loads for RUF and AFRC commanders from Lunsar to Makeni. In Makeni itself, the witness said that he went with his boss, Hassan Papa Bangura, and Ibrahim “Bazzy” Kamara to break into a bank and steal money from a safe. He described rampant looting from shops and civilians in the town.

Sesay described a meeting of AFRC/RUF commanders convened by Johnny Paul Koroma in Koidu Town, Kono district shortly after AFRC/RUF forces captured it in March 1998. At the meeting, which the witness said he attended, Koroma explained that the civilians of Kono were against them. He said the area should be made a no-go zone for civilians: their houses should be burned, the able-bodied should be put to work, and all other civilians should be executed...

The witness said that after this meeting, he went with Hassan Papa Bangura, other AFRC members, and RUF members to Yardo Road in Koidu, where they encountered a group of civilians and shot them all dead. Sesay said he could not remember how many people they had killed. They then displayed the corpses at road junctions because the chairman (Koroma) had said they should create fear so that other civilians wouldn’t come to Koidu.

Despite all what had happened, with the disruption of democratic governance from May 25, 1997 to time they were ousted after nine months of brutal dictatorship, elements of junta supporters would still want their readers to believe that the ousted SLPP government ruled for 11 uninterrupted years from 1996 to 2007 deliberately and conveniently forgetting the dastardly military interregnum of the beasts.


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©Sierra Herald 2002