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Curfew partially lifted in SLeone capital after deadly clashes

By Saidu BAH
Africa Police guard the entrance to the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation in Freetown following the clashes in which 13 soldiers were killed amid a report of two civilian fatalities.  By Saidu BAH AFP
NOV 27, 2023 LISTEN
Police guard the entrance to the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation in Freetown following the clashes in which 13 soldiers were killed amid a report of two civilian fatalities. By Saidu BAH (AFP)

Clashes that shook Sierra Leone's capital Freetown on Sunday left 13 dead in the ranks of the army loyal to the government, and were orchestrated by active and retired soldiers, the army spokesperson said Monday.

"We have launched a manhunt for all those who were involved in the violent attack, amongst them current and retired serving soldiers," Colonel Issa Bangura told reporters.

Late Monday evening, a forensic services official told AFP on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the subject that at least four attackers and two civilians were also killed, which would lift the toll of fatalities to 19.

Daily life began to resume amid a heavy security presence in Freetown on Monday, as the government partially lifted a curfew imposed after the clashes erupted in the city.

Bangura told AFP eight soldiers had been seriously injured in the clashes as they defended their barracks.

More than 24 hours after the incident, authorities had still to give a full toll after armed assailants stormed a military armoury and several prisons, sparking battles with security forces that lasted for hours.

The central prison and other penitentiaries were stormed and dozens of inmates appeared to have escaped.

Videos posted on social media appeared to show men in uniform under arrest in the back or beside a military pick-up truck.

Security forces leave a Freetown mortuary after clashes which left 13 soldiers dead and which an army spokesperson said active and retired soldiers orchestrated.  By Saidu BAH AFP Security forces leave a Freetown mortuary after clashes which left 13 soldiers dead and which an army spokesperson said active and retired soldiers orchestrated. By Saidu BAH (AFP)

There meanwhile remained no indication of who had been responsible or regarding their motives.

"Certain members of the military are not loyal towards the government or the president, despite taking the oath," said Bangura.

"We want to restore law and order as quickly as possible," he stressed.

President Julius Maada Bio said late Sunday that calm had been restored after what he described as an attempt to undermine peace and stability and vowed those responsible for the clashes would be held accountable.

He said most of those behind the clashes had been arrested.

The president's office later Monday released images of him receiving high-level delegations bearing a "message of solidarity" from regional bloc ECOWAS as well as from Nigeria.

Stocking up

With Freetown placed under high security, residents gradually resumed their daily activities.

Some shops and banks re-opened and traffic resumed, an AFP correspondent said.

Schools, however, remained closed.

Many people in Sierra Leone, such as 25-year-old mother Mariama Kamara, rushed to stock up on supplies where they could.

"I am looking for food for the family -- most shops are closed," she told AFP.

I expect the government to protect us. We want peace but many people fear returning to going about their business," she added.

A soldier passes a street vendor pushing a bread cart cart in Freetown -- many shops remained closed a day after Sunday's clashes that shook the capital and brought a partial curfew.  By Saidu BAH AFP A soldier passes a street vendor pushing a bread cart cart in Freetown -- many shops remained closed a day after Sunday's clashes that shook the capital and brought a partial curfew. By Saidu BAH (AFP)

Checkpoints have been set up on main highways, with members of the security forces searching vehicles. Security was reinforced at official buildings and prisons.

A curfew will be imposed from 9:00 pm (2100 GMT) to 6:00 am until further notice, the Information ministry announced, lifting a daytime curfew previously imposed.

"While we encourage citizens to return to their normal activities... we continue to urge everyone to remain calm but vigilant, and to report any suspicious or unusual activity to the nearest police station," the information ministry said in a statement overnight.

The West African nation recently experienced a political crisis after elections in June, until an agreement was reached in October following mediation by the Commonwealth, the African Union and ECOWAS.

The latest unrest has sparked fears of another coup in West Africa, where Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Guinea have all experienced putsches since 2020.

President Bio himself led a coup in the 1990s before handing over power and returning to politics as a civilian years later.

American support

Regional bloc ECOWAS described Sunday's events as an attempt to "disrupt peace and constitutional order," language commonly used for political coups.

Sierra Leone's various partners called for "constitutional order" to be respected.

Former president Ernest Bai Koromo of the opposition All People's Congress (APC) party said in a statement that one of the soldiers assigned to guard him had been shot dead at close range and that another had been abducted.

Sierra Leonean armed forces patrol the streets in Freetown, where residents were gradually resuming daily activities.  By JOHN WESSELS AFPFile Sierra Leonean armed forces patrol the streets in Freetown, where residents were gradually resuming daily activities. By JOHN WESSELS (AFP/File)

He said he strongly condemned Sunday's attacks and called for calm and order.

The US embassy said it "strongly supports President Bio in his call for national unity," in a message posted on social media.

Bio was in June re-elected to a second term as president, winning 56.17 percent of the vote, according to the results published by the electoral commission.

The main opposition party disputes the results of the presidential election, as well as legislative and local elections in June.

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