8 June 2012
The eastern district of Freetown remained tense yesterday, Thursday, after two nights of stand-off between an heavily armed police and local community youths, following the killing of two unarmed young men on Tuesday, 5 June.
According to reports, rioting and violence erupted in the densely populated area of Wellington early Tuesday morning, when hundreds of local youths in the community who had organised themselves into a community safety watch group, were themselves shot at by the police, with fatal consequences.
The youths had unsuccessfully attempted to apprehend a group of men in a vehicle suspected of being robbers.
But minutes after chasing the suspects, a large contingent of heavily armed riot police arrived on the scene and opened fire on the youths.
Two of the youths died of AK47 gunshot wounds, and many others wounded.
Eyewitnesses say that the police then proceeded to handcuffing the dead youths and attempted to carry the corpses away. But they were resisted by the protesting youths.
It is also reported that the police had painstakingly gathered and took away the spent munitions and gas canisters from the scene.
The rioting is said to have continued into Wednesday, as the angry local youths demanded the return of the remains of those shot dead by the police, for burial.
Awoko reported that; “The entire Peacock Farm stretching to the NATCO Factory area were reminiscent of the January 6 rebel onslaught on Freetown, as personnel of the Operational Support Division (OSD) moved in and around, heavily armed with AK 47 rifles, tear gas canisters and other riot control paraphernalia.”
“Explaining the sad event to Awoko, one of the members of the vigilante group, Gibrilla Kamara, said their group is an anti-robbery group established in consultation with the Police Partnership Board to safeguard their lives and properties from marauding armed robbers that have been terrorizing their community in the past weeks.”
The police have put out a statement saying that they will be investigating the incident. But few in the country have confidence in investigations carried out by the police or the government.
The entire eastern district of Freetown remains tense, amid fear of further indiscriminate shootings by a heavily armed police force.
It is not clear whether president Koroma will declare a state of emergency, should the violence escalate to other parts of the capital – Freetown.
In the meantime, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has issued the following security advisory on its website:
• Rioting began in the eastern area of Freetown on the afternoon of 7 June which is spreading towards the downtown area. British nationals are advised to exercise caution in the areas where these demonstrations are taking place.
• Sierra Leone’s national elections are due on 17 November 2012. There may be an increase in localised political tensions in the period running up to these. You should exercise caution around large gatherings of people, and avoid all political demonstrations anywhere in the country. See Safety and Security – Political Situation.
• A protest planned by local mining company employees in Tonkolili District for 16-18 April escalated on the night of Tuesday 17 April, during which one Sierra Leone national was shot and killed by local police. We understand that Western companies in Tonkolili have temporarily suspended movements to and from their compounds. We are not aware of any British nationals sustaining injuries during the violence. END.
This latest eruption of violence, comes just three months after widespread protest and international condemnation of president Koroma’s decision to spend $5 Million, which the country can ill-afford, on military grade weapons in order to arm the police force.
It is suspected that the weapons have been purchased in anticipation of the November 17 general and presidential elections.
Initially, the president and his ministers had denied all knowledge of having ordered the weapons, which included hundreds of AK47 rifles and Rocket Launchers.
Official documents and invoices relating to the purchase and shipment of the military grade weapons were leaked to the press, forcing president Koroma to then admit that he had indeed purchased the weapons.
But, Koroma subsequently denied that the weapons were bought in order to arm the police. He told the international community that the weapons – including the AK47s had been handed over to the military.
Was that statement a pack of lies from the government? If so, who gave the orders for the weapons to be handed over to the police?
It is evidently clear from the Wellington fatal violence, that the police are now shooting at unarmed citizens using those very AK47s meant for the military.
There are fears that this show of naked aggression and deadly use of force by the president’s Special Security Force, is just a prelude to November 17, when elections will be taking place across the country.
Will those AK47s be fired at the backs of voters – should the electoral outcome turns sour for the government?
There are bloody worrying times ahead, as police brutality – impunity and lawlessness, raise its ugly head once again in Sierra Leone.