Are the ruling APC party re-arming, deploying and registering ex-combatants in the opposition SLPP’s strongholds?

8 February 2012

SLPP presidential candidate - Maada Bio

A series of press statements issued by the opposition SLPP in the last few days, have provoked a bitter response from the ruling APC party and government, who are now threatening Court action against the SLPP. They are accusing the opposition SLPP of “seditious libel”.

Yesterday’s heated debate on Sierra Leone’s national television, between the opposition SLPP and the ruling APC, suggests that with the general elections just nine months away, the political temperature is bound to get much hotter.

Both sides are engaged in fierce propaganda war, in what can only be described as  destructive negative campaigning, that may well frighten off the electorate, rather than encourage them to come out in their millions to vote on the 17th November.

Notwithstanding the veracity and credibility of the claims and counter-claims put forward by each side, in such a fierce political battle, it is the people of Sierra Leone and the country’s fledgling democracy that suffers.

But what seemed to have raised the political temperature to such a boiling point, are the allegations made by the SLPP, that:

“First, the APC intends to provoke violence in the strongholds of the Opposition during the campaign to have an excuse for declaring a State of Emergency and thereby extending the tenure of the President beyond his five year term.”

“Second, the APC intends to provoke violence in the SLPP strongholds during the campaign and blame it on our Party supporters to have an excuse for mass arrests of our Party stalwarts.”

“Third, the APC intends to use these ex-combatants to create mayhem thereby preventing supporters of the SLPP from voting, whilst voting would proceed smoothly in their own strongholds.”

The government’s Information Minister – I.B.Kargbo, strongly denied the accusations and called upon the opposition SLPP to produce the evidence in support of their allegations.

But speaking on behalf of the SLPP, Dr. Abass Bundu said that his party has an interest in maintaining the peace, which they achieved in 2000, after ten years of civil war that started under the watch of the ruling APC party.

He argued that SLPP has no interest in reverting the country to war and instability.

“Coming to the SLBC studio this morning, I received a phone call, informing me that; 16 SLRT registered buses loaded with people from neighbouring Guinea were seen arriving in Kambia to register as voters” – says Abass Bundu. He called upon the police and the National Electoral Commission to investigate.

Minority opposition leader – Mohamed Bangura, has issued a press statement calling for an immediate official response by the government to those allegations. He said that should the evidence suggest that the government is guilty, president Koroma and his ministers must tender their resignation.

Bangura also said that, should SLPP’s allegations be found to lack any evidence, their presidential candidate – Mr. Julius Maada Bio, must be charged with “seditious libel”.

Dr. Abass Bundu confidently asserted that the SLPP’s accusations are credible and based on evidence, which they will provide when called upon to do so.

Information minister – I.B.Kargbo confirmed that the government will take the matter to Court. “President Koroma will be making a public statement on the SLPP allegations” – says minister Kargbo.

With these allegations and counter-allegations, observers say that political tensions are being inflamed further, despite calls for all political parties to tone down the rhetoric and propaganda.

But the opposition SLPP are unrepentant about their press statement, which the government and their APC party say is designed to cause panic, fear and chaos in the country, leading up to the November 17th general and presidential elections.

This is the SLPP’s presidential candidate – Julius Maada Bio’s statement, issued on 5 February 2012:

“It has come to the attention of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) that the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) has embarked on transporting ex-combatants from different parts of the country to register in towns in the South and the Eastern Provinces, the strongholds of the Opposition SLPP.

Ex-combatants armed with weapons and other offensive instruments have already been ferried to Moyamba, Bo, Kenema, Pujehun, Kailahun and Zimmi.

In addition, foreign nationals and ex-combatants from neighbouring countries are also being transported by Sierra Leone’s Ambassadors accredited to those countries for the purpose of swelling APC votes in the elections.

In all places where ex-combatants have been deployed, the indigenes of those towns have expressed fear and have made formal complaints to the local police stations.

Unfortunately, the Police have refused to take action and have insisted that the ex-combatants have the right to register wherever they wish. The APC has rented houses in all these locations for these ex-combatants where they are intimidating the local inhabitants.

This cross district and regional registration is not without sinister motive on the part of the APC.

First, the APC intends to provoke violence in the strongholds of the Opposition during the campaign to have an excuse for declaring a State of Emergency and thereby extending the tenure of the President beyond his five year term.

Second, the APC intends to provoke violence in the SLPP strongholds during the campaign and blame it on our Party supporters to have an excuse for mass arrests of our Party stalwarts.

Third, the APC intends to use these ex-combatants to create mayhem thereby preventing supporters of the SLPP from voting, whilst voting would proceed smoothly in their own strongholds.

The SLPP will like to inform the public that it has raised this matter with the National Electoral Commission (NEC) at the Political Parties Liaison Committee (PPLC) meeting held on Wednesday February 1, 2012.

The Commission condemned the act. Disappointingly, however, despite public knowledge of this deployment of ex-combatants and their registration in Southern and Eastern towns, the Commission is yet to issue a public statement on the matter.

The SLPP is most disturbed that this remobilization, rearming, systematic deployment and registration of ex-combatants is fully financed and supported by official agents of the Government, spearheaded by the Minister of Defence and Minister of Internal Affairs, contrary to all previous disarmament obligations of the Government.

The SLPP is therefore calling on NEC not to register any such ex-combatants except in their usual places of abode.

We also call on the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC), Civil Society Organisations, and our Development Partners to take appropriate action to ensure that these ex-combatants are not registered outside their places of abode.

The SLPP is formally requesting UNIPSIL to kindly transmit this Press Statement to the Security Council of the United Nations and the International Criminal Court (ICC) and to draw the attention of these bodies to the potential danger that this extant action of the Government poses to the credibility of the forthcoming elections as well as the peace and security of the State of Sierra Leone.”

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