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ECOWAS Condemns Coup Plot In Sierra Leone, Ringleaders Arrested

A man is questioned by Sierra leonean military police at a road block in Freetown on November 26, 2023 – A military armoury in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown came under attack on Sunday, the government said, as it imposed an immediate national curfew. (Photo by Saidu BAH / AFP)

Sierra Leone’s government declared full control on Sunday evening, following a report of an attack on a military armoury in the capital Freetown that sparked armed skirmishes and was described by the president as an attempt to destabilize the state.

Authorities in the English-speaking West African country, which has been in a political turmoil since June elections, have announced a national curfew until further notice.

President Julius Maada Bio announced late Sunday that tranquility has been restored following what he described as an attempt to destabilize the country’s peace and stability.

“Most of the leaders have been arrested. Security operations and investigations are ongoing,” Bio said on national television, adding that the government would “ensure that those responsible are held accountable”.

According to an AFP journalist, the capital’s tranquility was gradually returning by Sunday evening, but roadblocks closely guarded by security troops remained in place.

The “government is in firm control of the security situation in Freetown, and the attackers are retreating,” information minister Chernor Bah told AFP yesterday.

Social media videos appeared to show men in uniform being arrested in the rear or beside a military pick-up truck.

Witnesses told AFP earlier in the day that they heard gunshots and explosions in the city’s Wilberforce neighborhood, which houses the armoury and other embassies.

Other witnesses reported gunfire near a navy base in Murray Town and outside another military facility in Freetown.

The information ministry claimed earlier in the day attacks on jails that forced security troops to flee.

“The prisons were thus overrun” with some detainees released and others “abducted”, it said.

A video shared on social media claimed that many prisoners had escaped from the major prison.

One man in a group filmed by an AFP correspondent on the street stated they had fled from the prison.

According to the communications ministry, security forces drove the attackers to the outskirts of Freetown, with AFP drone footage showing vacant streets in the capital.

The situation remained ambiguous, with authorities refusing to comment on the attackers’ motivations or identities.

‘Like a war’

President Bio wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that the government would “continue to protect the peace and security of Sierra Leone against the forces that wish to truncate our much-cherished stability”.

“We remain resolute in our determination to protect democracy in Sierra Leone.”

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional bloc that has faced a series of coups among its members since 2020, issued a statement emphasizing “its zero-tolerance for unconstitutional change of government.”

ECOWAS expressed “utter disgust” at a “plot by certain individuals to acquire arms and disturb the peace and constitutional order,” echoing language used to condemn previous coup attempts.

On social media, the US embassy condemned the attempted break-in and expressed its continuous support for individuals “working for a peaceful, democratic, healthy, and prosperous Sierra Leone.”

The European Union’s local representation expressed alarm and demanded that constitutional order be respected.

Witness Susan Kargbo told AFP over the phone that she was awakened “around 4:30 a.m. by a loud sound of heavy machine gun (fire) and bombs coming from the Wilberforce barracks.”

“I was shocked and… the gunshots continued until this morning, it was like a war,” she said.

Attackers ‘repelled’

The administration stated that individuals attempting to break into the armoury had been repulsed, but asked the people to remain at home while security activities were ongoing.

The UK and European Union local reps backed the authorities’ suggestion to stay at home.

Sierra Leone’s airspace remained accessible, according to the civil aviation authorities, although airlines were urged to rearrange their flights once the curfew was lifted.

President Bio was re-elected in June with 56.17 percent of the vote, just above the 55 percent required to avoid a run-off.

Inconsistencies and a lack of openness in the count, as well as acts of violence and intimidation, were condemned by international observers.

The main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) party challenged the results of the June 24 presidential, legislative, and local elections and boycotted all levels of government.

Following talks mediated by the Commonwealth, the African Union, and ECOWAS, the APC and the government reached an agreement in October.

The APC decided to halt its boycott and resume participating in government in exchange for an end to politically motivated detentions and court cases.

 

Written by PH

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