18 August: The AFRC and
its RUF allies moved violently to stop a student-led pro-democracy
demonstration Monday. Soldiers and former rebel fighters armed with
rocket-propelled grenades, automatic weapons, and machetes made numerous
arrests and blocked off streets in Freetown to prevent a march organised
by the National Union of Sierra Leone Students (NUSS). One student was
reported killed in a clash with soldiers outside the Sierra Leone
Nursing School, where students had taken refuge after troops cordoned
off the area.
Demonstrators were seen beaten, kicked, and
thrown into the backs of military vehicles. A NUSS spokesman said two
students were seriously wounded, one by gunshots and another by machete.
Even before the march began, RUF units sought out and detained suspected
activists. A student leader, David Bockarie, and 26 members of NUSS were
arrested and taken to Pademba Road Prison, along with the chairman of
the Civil Rights Committee, lawyer Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie. Other
student leaders have reportedly gone into hiding.
The march was to have begun at Kissy Road,
and to proceed via the turntable to Siaka Stevens Street, ending at the
law court. Soldiers, firing into the air and driving through the streets
at high speed, made arrests anywhere a group of people had gathered.
Many students were prevented from reaching the site of the planned march
by troops who combed the streets, manned checkpoints, and blockaded the
main road to Fourah Bay College. Shops in Freetown were closed and
Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, the only bank currently operating in
Freetown, also closed its doors.
The radio claimed that only 7 of 35 persons
arrested were students, and that at least two students had been caught
with AK-47 assault rifles before the demonstration.
Students in Bo also went ahead with
demonstrations, despite a show of force by soldiers, RUF "People's Army"
fighters, and SSD contingents, all armed with automatic rifles and
rocket-propelled grenades, and backed up by trucks carrying
anti-aircraft guns. After marching for a short distance, the students
were confronted by AFRC forces along Prince William Street. The students
sat down peacefully, but were quickly dispersed by soldiers using
teargas. The students later regrouped in another part of town, but were
again chased away by security forces. The security forces later
celebrated their victory over the students by driving through Bo in a
fleet of vehicles, singing and brandishing their guns. Sierra Leone's
police inspector said on SLBS (state radio) that all security forces
will remain on alert to maintain law and order in the country.
AFRC spokesman Allieu Kamara denied reports
Monday that the military had used excessive force against student
demonstrators. "We have not been beating up students. We have not been
chasing them around," Kamara told the BBC. "All we are trying to do is
contain them because we do believe that peace is paramount...because
without peace the word democracy will not, in fact, flourish."
Kamara said the AFRC had invited student
leaders to sit down with them "so that they can explain to them exactly
what they want the AFRC to do," but that the students had declined.
"They ignored our request, but they were determined definitely to come
out on the streets and disrupt." Kamara rejected suggestions that
military personnel were beating up opponents. "What they are trying to
do is to make sure that there is peace on the streets of Freetown and I
assure you that nobody will tell you that they have been beating people
indiscriminately," he said.
He said those arrested during the
demonstrations were "people that have been stoning, people that have
been harassing the personnel that are moving around town to make sure
that there is peace and quiet. So all we are trying to do is to contain
Kamara alleged that the students were armed
and had fired upon the soldiers. "Students are armed with AK-47's," he
said. "We have proof and I will assure you that pistols were taken away
from them. We got those equipment we don't know."