Sierra Leone military men under probe over arms movement

Sunday July 15 2018

Julius Maada Bio

Sierra Leone's President Julius Maada Bio. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Sierra Leone authorities say they were investigating six senior military officers over the missing huge cache of arms and ammunition and an unexplained discovery of another cache of weapons.

Three separate investigations involving three separate incidences were ongoing, officials disclosed, in the latest episode of a drama characterising the political transition occasioned by the March General Election.

In the first case, being investigated by a joint panel of Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) officials, a huge number of arms and ammunition under the control of the Joint Presidential Guard (JPG) was unaccounted for. The weapons were discovered missing immediately after the elections and change of government, officials said.

Official residence

Two senior officers who headed JPG under former President Ernest Bai Koroma, were under investigation over that case, a statement issued by MoD, said, noting that one of the men was in "confinement", while the other one had been suspended pending investigation.

In the second case, a cache of arms and ammunition was discovered at the Presidential Lodge. Officials refused to disclose the quantity involved, citing security reasons.

The weapons were said to have been found apparently dumped in a cesspit sucker-way within the compound of the official residence of the Sierra Leone president.

The case was being handled by the Police Criminal Investigation Department (CID), and four officers, including an Assistant Chief of Defence Staff, the Commander of the Peace Mission Training Centre, and a Military official on Secondment at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, were being investigated over this.

Sierra Leone's former President Ernest Bai

Sierra Leone's former President Ernest Bai Koroma. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The third case involves the discovery of military items at the private residence of former Defence minister Alfred Palo Conteh.

According to the MoD statement, CID officers, acting on a tip off, mounted a search on the compound of the former minister, situated at Wilberforce Village, near the Wilberforce Military Barrack, and discovered two bundles of combat tents, and 12 empty “suspected ammunition boxes".

Major (Rtd) Conteh was currently out of the country and has since denied the allegations.

The comments from MoD come nearly a month after reports first emerged of the detention of some military officials.

It all started when a leaked memo appeared on social media, demanding the release of the officers to the CID.

The opposition

Critics of the new government of President Julius Maada Bio claimed that it was part of a clampdown against officers in the army seen as loyal to his predecessor.

The Bio administration has had a shaky relationship with the military.

When it was in the opposition, during the elections, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) accused the army of seeking to assassinate it's candidate.

And then a few weeks after he was sworn into office, a senior SLPP member accused Mr Koroma of holding secret meetings with top senior army officers.

But MoD dismissed all these insinuations.