''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 9 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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Nine years ago today, on January 6, 1999 the people of Freetown's capital experienced the most brutal of terrors described by one survivor as "Satan has come in human form to Freetown".

So intense was the level of anarchy, so murderous the onslaught as the AFRC/RUF coalition of the evil beasts launched a full assault to regain the capital and hence regain control of the power they had been driven from in February of 1998, that all those who were perceived enemies, the civilian population in the main, were ruthlessly hunted, mutilated, robbed, raped and killed at random with no mercy shown to babies, women, the elderly, the infirm and the vulnerable.

"This is a war being waged through attacks on the civilian population. AFRC/RUF soldiers typically capture civilians, round them up from their hiding places in the forest or in villages and commit atrocities against them in an effort to instill terror. The AFRC/RUF appears to use this campaign of fear as a means of exerting political and military control. They often summarily execute civilians, accusing them of being Kabbah or Kamajor supporters, or Kamajor relatives. The soldiers further terrorize their victims by forcing them to participate in their own mutilation, asking them to make choices about which finger, hand, or arm, for example, to have amputated. They also use mutilation and other forms of physical abuse as punishment for refusing to follow their instructions." Human Rights Watch.

ECOMOG, the Nigeria-led peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone, taken by surprise and unprepared for the level of violence churned out from the gory maws of the beasts could only look on initially as Satan consumed the defenceless civilian population. And with many helpless and hapless civilians being used as human shields to sing their deceptive and sickening refrain "We want peace", the beasts went to work on a people they were determined to punish for supporting the forces that kicked them out of the illegal seats they were occupying with Johnny Paul Koroma as their titular head.

In the midst of the mindless mayhem, there were those the January invaders identified as their supporters when they were in power before they got kicked out in 1998.

They were therefore given a freeway to escape from their clutches, provided with the security reserved for these sets of people who were against "intervention" a term glibly used to allow the junta more time in office.

One of the beneficiaries, now a top gun in the "new APC" boasted a while back in London that they were spared because of their due recognition of the junta.

It was in the midst of this carnage that supporters of the brutal invaders got busy telephoning/contacting each other across continents and communities, patting each others backs and praising the "gallant men and women" who were now back in control in Freetown. Or so they thought.

Journalists thought to be anti-junta and who had been critical of the massive human rights abuses perpetrated by the junta before it got kicked out in 1998 were especially targeted as this section of the Human Rights report highlights.

This was a continuation of the junta's attitude to journalists believed to be sympathetic to the Tejan Kabbah regime, were critical of the junta because of its massive human rights abuses or merely the settling of scores by junta-funded journalists who wanted to get their own back on journalists who were critical of their cosy relationship with the human rights abusers.

"According to local journalists, seven Sierra Leonean and one United States citizen reporter were killed by rebel forces during the January 6 rebel offensive. There were also three journalists abducted, one of whom has since been released. One journalist had one of his eyes gouged out with a knife and many journalists suffered significant personal property damage and loss. The building housing two newspapers, the Concord Times and the Standard Times, was looted and later burned. Many journalists who went into hiding were later told that groups of rebels had come to their residences asking for them and demanding their capture.

While the atrocities committed against a few journalists resulted from arbitrary acts of violence, there is clear evidence to suggest that journalists were indeed sought after and targeted. Members of the independent press in Sierra Leonean have traditionally been vocal opponents of past military regimes, and have often worked in a climate of repression. The nine month rule of the AFRC/RUF Junta was no exception. Many pro-democracy newspapers continued to publish and were highly critical of the Junta, thus becoming deeply unpopular with them.

When the RUF returned to Freetown in January, they had the names of and sought after many of the individual journalists and publishers who had in the past written unfavorably of them. The relatives of Phillip Neville, the managing editor of the pro-democracy Standard Times described how rebels came to his home in Kissy with a list of opponents, which included the names of Phillip and several other journalists. According to the relatives, the rebels showed them the list and said, we've come to teach him a lesson. He's been writing negative things about us."

And as Sierra Leoneans remember the many who were raped, maimed and dispossessed and more especially those who perished, we pray that never again will this awful horror visit the land that we love our Sierra Leone. That we shall never again read of accounts like these narrated by one son of the soil, James Kajue

"And as soon as he said this, he swung around the AK-47, cocked it and opened fire on my family. It wasn't even one minute from the time he walked up to the time he opened up on us. And then I heard one of them saying, Awhy did you have to do it but the one who did it, who by that time was walking around to check if we were all dead, pulled Frida, who was alive, by the hair and said, see, they're not all dead. And then he got to me and said, I'll just pick up Pa's watch. I was hit on the hand which was resting on my chest so there was a lot of blood. I pretended to be dead so he just ripped off my watch and walked off with the others."







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©Sierra Herald 2002