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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
09FREETOWN104 2009-03-17 18:08:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Freetown
Cable title:  

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY RESPONDS TO FREETOWN

Tags:   PGOV PREL PHUM SL 
pdf how-to read a cable
VZCZCXRO1983
RR RUEHPA
DE RUEHFN #0104/01 0761808
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 171808Z MAR 09
FM AMEMBASSY FREETOWN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2532
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
					C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 FREETOWN 000104 

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR AF/W (JHUNTER/ESPRUILL)

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/17/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM SL
SUBJECT: INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY RESPONDS TO FREETOWN
VIOLENCE

REF: A. FREETOWN 99

B. FREETOWN 42

Classified By: Ambassador June Carter Perry for reasons 1.4 (b/d)



1. (C) Summary: The UN Executive Representative of the
Secretary General (ERSG) convened a meeting of the diplomatic
corps on March 17 to discuss the political violence that
occurred on March 13 and 16 (reftel A). The ERSG relayed
information from a meeting held earlier that morning with
President Koroma, and then the group met separately with APC
and SLPP representatives. Both parties used the opportunity
to blame the other for recent and long-past actions and
grievances, but condemned the violence. The APC denied
culpability for the actions of the disenfranchised youth who
were the primary instigators of the disturbances, while the
SLPP discussed the severity of the violence used against
their supporters and the destruction to their headquarters.
The SLPP seeks the international community's support to
eliminate what they view as threats to democracy, while the
APC stated their hope that donors will provide funding for
employment schemes that will benefit the easily-manipulated
idle youth. Further meetings with both sides will be
conducted, but with all parties denying responsibility and
seeking to discredit the other, establishing unity and
harmony will require continued involvement of the
international community. End Summary.



--------------------------


A MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT


--------------------------





2. (C) The ERSG began the meeting by recounting his earlier
audience with the President. Koroma promised a full
investigation into the events, and the prosecutions of those
responsible for crimes regardless of party affiliation.
Koroma could not resist including some anti-SLPP rhetoric in
his remarks to the ERSG, stating that the current SLPP
leadership were heavily involved in the 1992 coup, and that
the SLP found a cache of weapons in the SLPP headquarters on
March 16 (Note: Weapons were found on the premises, but post
have no information yet directly linking the weapons to SLPP
members. End note). He further said that calling on the
military to intervene, which the SLPP Secretary General
allegedly did, creates public doubt that the Sierra Leone
Police (SLP) can maintain public order. Calling in the
military, he said, is what caused the problems in 1992.
Koroma also addressed the recent letter by a military faction
calling themselves the "Dream Team" (reftel B), saying that
it was likely SLPP propaganda further designed to sow the
seeds of instability and discredit the security forces.
Though Koroma supports the decision to close the party radio
stations, he acknowledged that it was mishandled (Note: The
Independent Media Commission conceded on March 17 that the
Head of State has the authority to suspend media outlets
whose operations pose a threat to national security. End
note).



3. (C) The ERSG told the dip corps that they must send a
clear message that violence will not be tolerated. He also
informed them that the SLP, already lacking in equipment and
supplies prior to this incident, now have a desperate need
for more tear gas. Further, their shortfall in vehicles made
it challenging to control the events.



--------------------------


THE APC PERSPECTIVE


--------------------------





4. (C) The APC representatives, led by Secretary General
Victor Foh, focused on historical allegations of SLPP
wrongdoing, including murder and treason. Though they regret
the recent incidents, they disavowed blame, saying that they
could not be expected to control the disenfranchised and
unemployed youth. Foh and his colleagues then condemned the
SLPP's history as a party, noting concern that they seem to
feel that they can do whatever they want, and show no remorse
for past actions. They also said that the SLPP have never
been able to concede power in a sustained, peaceful fashion,
and that they are unable to act as a responsible and
effective opposition party. The APC noted that the SLP did a
credible job, and then called on the international community
to provide funding for programs that will assist the
unemployed. This, they said, would help to preserve stability.



--------------------------


THE SLPP PRESENTS THEIR SIDE


--------------------------





5. (C) SLPP leadership, including John Benjamin, Deputy

FREETOWN 00000104 002 OF 002


Chairperson Kadi Sesay, and J.J. Saffa, presented a statement
of events, including the vandalism of their headquarters,
burning of two vehicles, and rape of six women by looters
(Note: The allegations of rape have not been substantiated,
but appear credible based on information provided up to this
point. End note). They also identified Idriss Kamara (aka
Leatherboot), a member of the President's personal security
detail and known and feared ex-combatant, as part of the
crowd that entered and looted the building. They stated that
the SLP did not do enough to stop the attacks from occurring
and escalating, and that the police force must be impartial.
SLPP leaders are demanding a public denunciation of the
violence, a full investigation into events, and requested
that the international community intervene to remedy the
situation. They stated that they cannot operate effectively
as a party or as the official opposition if their
headquarters are constantly under siege.



--------------------------


COMMENT


--------------------------





6. (C) The Ambassador responded to both parties by reminding
them of the need to resolve their issues peacefully, and also
condemned the use of rape as a weapon of war. Despite such
reminders that the focus needs to be on the present and
future of Sierra Leone, with unity and good governance the
keys to supporting development, these messages appear to be
only partially absorbed as party leaders and members are
determined to remain mired in the past. However, it is
notable that in today's meeting it was the APC that provided
the "history lesson," rather than the SLPP, who seem to have
moved beyond their bitter rhetoric regarding the loss of the
2007 presidential election. Indeed, the SLPP provided a
surprisingly coherent and balanced account of what happened
and what is needed to move forward, while the APC seemed to
have little to say beyond denying blame. Further meetings
this week between members of the international community and
the parties will be needed to strengthen the historically
strained relationship between the APC and SLPP, but it seems
as though this incident could be setting the stage for an
uneasy and tenuous build-up to the 2012 elections. Post will
reinforce that Sierra Leone must remember that they are
considered a model for democracy and governance in the region
and elsewhere, and will continue spreading this message in
all appropriate venues. The Embassy released a press
statement to this effect on March 17. End Comment.
PERRY