S.Leone authorities treating Sunday's deadly clashes as failed coup

Africa Authorities say at least 21 people died in Sunday's violence in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown.  By Saidu BAH AFP
NOV 28, 2023 LISTEN
Authorities say at least 21 people died in Sunday's violence in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown. By Saidu BAH (AFP)

Sierra Leonean authorities were treating clashes that killed 21 people in the capital Freetown at the weekend as a failed coup attempt, officials told reporters on Tuesday.

Freetown residents woke up to gunfire and explosions on Sunday and experienced several hours of armed confrontation between security forces and armed assailants who attempted to break into a military armory.

"We did investigate an attempted coup which failed in the early hours of the 26th of November", William Fayia Sellu said, adding that "a group of people" had tried to illegally "unseat" the government with force.

The central prison and several police stations were stormed and hundreds of detainees escaped.

"The state security and intelligence forces tell me now the November 26 incidents might be a failed attempted coup", Interior Minister Chernor Bah told reporters on Tuesday, adding that investigations were ongoing.

"The intention of these people might be to illegally subvert and overthrow the democratically elected government of this country".

The clashes left 21 dead, including 14 soldiers and three attackers, he said. Thirteen soldiers and one civilian suspected of being involved in the alleged coup attempt are in detention, he added.

'Handsome reward'

Police on Tuesday published photographs of 32 men and two women it said were being sought in connection with the unrest. They include serving and retired soldiers and police as well as some civilians.

A police statement posted on social media offered a "handsome reward" to anyone coming forward with information on the "fugitives."

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

President Julius Maada Bio on Monday received a high-level delegation from ECOWAS and Nigeria, a heavyweight in the region which currently holds the regional bloc's presidency.

"The chair of authority... has asked us to underscore the readiness and the commitment of ECOWAS to support the people of Sierra Leone to strengthen national security by all means, including... the deployment if needs be of regional elements," Omar Alieu Touray, president of the ECOWAS commission delegation visiting Freetown, said.

He did not specify what he meant by "elements".

"ECOWAS and Nigeria will not accept any interference with democracy, peace, security and stability in Sierra Leone," said Nigeria's national security adviser, Malam Nuhu Ribadu.

Sierra Leone experienced a political crisis after elections in June, the results of which the main opposition disputed.

An agreement was reached in October following mediation by the Commonwealth, the African Union and ECOWAS.

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