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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

SIERRA LEONE: Former coup leader sought by security

ABIDJAN, 20 January 2003 (IRIN) - Sierra Leone's former military leader, Johnny Paul Koroma, was on Monday reported to be on the run after he escaped arrest for questioning in connection with an attack on an army barracks on 13 January, news agencies reported.

"I am alive and safe. I escaped because they opened fire on my residence," Koroma was quoted as saying by Reuters. "I did not have anything to do with the armed attack on the military installation at Wellington - I am just an innocent man." Security forces were holding 18 people who were picked up following a Saturday raid on Koroma's home in the capital, Freetown.

In the attack on Wellington barracks, gunmen tried to seize arms. The BBC reported the police as saying in a statement that the army, UN troops and the police responded to the attackers and put the situation under control. A few days earlier the police had raided the residence of former President Joseph Momoh on suspicion that ex-combatants in the premises could be involved in clandestine activities, the BBC added.

The French RFI quoted the acting Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Brima Acha Kamara, as saying that investigations into the Wellington attack had showed "a bigger picture which is a conspiracy to destabilise the state".

Sierra Leone emerged from a decade of war in 2002, during which Koroma took power from Ahmad Tejan Kabbah in a 1997 coup but was driven out by a West African regional force in 1998. The UN has enforced a fragile peace over the last few years and the country was seen as beginning to enjoy some stability.

During the war, Koroma's forces were also believed to have committed crimes along with those belonging to Foday Sankoh's rebel Revolutionary United Front, which joined forces with Koroma after the coup in 1997. Sankoh is expected to appear before a UN War Crimes Tribunal. The crimes by these forces included murders, amputations and widespread rape.

A UN supervised election was held in 2002, in which Kabbah won a landslide presidential victory. Koroma was elected to parliament, with a large number of votes from Sierra Leone's military.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict


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