Who’s responsible for the Segbwema fracas?

By our correspondent

Friday, 31 August 2007

As expected, accusations and counter-accusations abound over where the responsibility lies for the Thursday 30th August clashes in Segbwema, eastern Sierra Leone, between supporters of the ruling SLPP and the opposition APC. Because of those clashes, a temporary dusk to dawn curfew has been imposed by the police in neighbouring Kailahun.

A Reuters report puts the blame squarely on the door of the SLPP for starting the disturbance. The report published today, Friday August 31st says, ‘dozens of youths stoned a convoy of the opposition All People’s Congress (APC) as it rolled into the south-eastern town of Segbwema. They then fought with the party’s guards before police dispersed them with tear gas. The pro-SLPP youths forced Koroma’s campaign convoy to turn back from Segbwema’.

A Voice of America (VOA) report published also today 31st August, quotes the assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of professional standards and the media, Chris Charlie agreeing with the Reuters report in part that ‘yesterday (30th August) Mr. Ernest Koroma and his whole team were en route to Kailahun after traveling from Kenema, the police have ensured that he was provided with the best security’.

Charlie went on in the VOA report that ‘indeed there were some skirmishes between rival parties in Segbwema in the afternoon hours. But as I am talking to you now I have confirmed with the regional commissioner in the eastern province that even the assertion that SLPP party building was burned to the ground is not true, and she has yet to confirm to us here in Freetown whether other buildings have been gutted’.

‘The police in Kailahun have declared immediate curfew for people to stay in their homes rather than go out because there were some threats this evening for the native Poro Devil (the secret association for men in Mende society) to come out in the streets,’ Charlie said. ‘Our presence is all over the provinces, especially in that part of the country’, he said.

Charlie said the police could not confirm whether it was APC or SLPP supporters who were responsible for the alleged violence. ‘We can only determine that one when there is a full-scale investigation, which the regional commissioner in the south and eastern provinces has now mounted. As I speak to you, we have authorized her today to send an investigating team to Segbwema to unravel the truth because most times during this period you have reports and counter-reports from rival political parties. And we have the arduous task to investigate speedily the allegations and come out with our findings before we can categorically lay blame on x, y, z party or not,’ Charlie said.

Observers believe the elections are bound to attract some amount of violence because they are the first after the departure of UN peacekeepers in 2005. They are a test of the country’s fragile peace, after 11 years of a brutal civil war, and also of its fledgling democracy. It is equally a test of the strength and resolve of the security forces to operate in a democratic climate. Their impartial and professional handling of the present crisis will go a way long way in demonstrating their ability as a force for good in Sierra Leone’s infantile democracy.

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