“Yes, I am packing…I will be leaving my Sierra Leone… I do not know whether I will ever come back…I worked hard to bring peace to Sierra Leone and …”
Those were the words of former Revolutionary United Front (RUF) Commander Issa Hassan Sesay (45) on a mobile phone in his cell in Freetown, Sierra Leone before he departed for Kigali aboard a UN plane together with seven other convicts to serve their sentences at Mpanga Prison in Southern Rwanda.
They committed their crimes during the 11 year civil war that raged in the western African nation from 1991 that is estimated to have cost the lives of 200,000 lives.
They had faced charges ranging from acts of terrorism ; collective punishments; extermination, murder; outrages upon personal dignity; physical violence; conscripting children under the age of 15 years into armed forces or groups; enslavement; pillage , mutilation, rape, forced marriage, sexual slavery, terrorizing civilians, unlawful killings, crimes against humanity, sexual violence, use of child soldiers, abductions and forced labor, looting and burning, attacks on UNAMSIL personnel and the enlistment of child soldiers.
Together with Sesay were; Morris Kallon aka Bilai Karim (45), Augustine Gbao aka Augustine Bao (61) formerly RUF Commanders, Alex Tamba Brima (38) aka Gullit, Brima “Bazzy” Kamara (41) and Santigie Bobor Kanu (44) a.k.a Five-Five from the former Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), Alieu Kondewa and Moinina Fofana from the former Civil Defence forces (CDF).
Sisey was sentenced to 52 years in prison, Kallon to 40 years, Gbao 25 years, Tamba 50 years, Bobor 50 years, Kamara 45 years, Kondewa 20 years and Fofana 15 years.
Of the eleven persons indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone; Corporal Foday Sankoh the founder and chief of RUF died in 2003, Sam Bockarie a.k.a Mosquito second to Sankoh died in mysterious circumstances reportedly at the hands of his mentor Charles Taylor who feared that Bockarie who was a wanted war criminal might reveal the latter’s connections to RUF, Samuel Hinga Norman, the former Interior Minister died in custody on February 22, 2007 and former military junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma remains in hiding.
What is special about the convicts is that they are former enemies from different warring factions that terrorized the people of Sierra Leone and West Africa.
Those who accessed information 1991 may never forget images, amputated and bloated bodies that depicted utter disregard for human life shown by the RUF rebels as they battled the poorly organized government troops for control of Sierra Leone.
When it was first formed, the RUF put forward the slogan, “No More Slaves, No More Masters. Power and Wealth to the People”, and this appeared to appeal to the “hinterlanders” in the North and North East of Sierra Leone particularly among tribesmen many of whom saw themselves as neglected by the rich elite in Freetown seen as corrupt and looked forward to promised free education and health care and equitable sharing of diamond revenues.
With Taylor and his National Patriotic Front of Liberia support the RUF made major successes against the government forces that finally toppled their government and the new military government under Capt. Valentine Stressor brought in the South African mercenary group Executive Outcome who, for the time being halted the advance of the rebels but not their cruelty.
Executive Outcome which was formed in 1989 boasted of 500 military advisers and over 3000 highly-trained military personnel drawn from the Apartheid’s SADF or ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe and had state-of-the-art machines of death such as Mi-24 Hind Mi-8 hip helicopters, BPM infantry vehicles in addition to specialized military personnel who had halted Dr. Savimbi’s UNITA and had forced him to sue for negotiations after resumption of hostilities after the 1992 general elections in Angola.
The RUF resorted to extreme brutality to terrorise the population in submission and swell its ranks. The RUF was notorious for severing the genital areas of those victims it did not murder, particularly children.
In response to the immediate execution of rebels by government forces, the RUF instead instituted a policy of cutting off the hands of captured soldiers with the intent of sending the message, “You don’t hold your weapon against your brother.” Brandishing machetes, RUF rebels amputated the hands, arms, and legs of tens of thousands of Sierra Leoneans.
The RUF indicated that the reason for these actions was that amputees could no longer mine diamonds, which might be used to support government troops.
The government election slogan at that time was that the people ‘had power in their hands’, so the RUF would hack the hands off to prevent voting. RUF members are also said to have practiced cannibalism.
The RUF made extensive use of children as combatants, using horrific methods to numb their new recruits to barbarity.
Thousands of abducted boys and girls were forced to serve as soldiers or as prostitutes, and those chosen to be fighters were sometimes forced to murder their parents.
Rebels frequently carved the initials “RUF” on their chests, and officers reportedly rubbed into open cuts on their troops to make them maniacal and fearless.
For entertainment, some soldiers would bet on the sex of an unborn baby and then slice open a woman’s womb to determine the winner.
Alex Tamba, an army Staff Sergeant who changed into army commander, Brima “Bazzy” Kamara a member of Armed Forces Revolutionary Council supreme organ and Santigie Bobor Kanu whose forces that attacked civilians in the north, east, and centre of Sierra Leone in 1998 and in the capital Freetown in January 1999, formed part of the Junta under Major Johnny Paul Koroma who overthrew the elected government and together with RUF made life for sierra Leoneans a nightmare.
Their cruelty and barbarism was only equalled by that of the rebels under RUF.
Alieu Kondewa and Moinina Fofana belonged to the Civil Defense Forces or CDF which was a Paramilitary group who fought alongside government troops and later ECOMOG troops.
They supported the elected government against the rebel groups RUF and AFRC. Much of the CDF was made up of the Kamajor tribesmen who were accused of pillaging, terrorizing, and killing civilians in Sierra Leone, as well as employing.
The CDF trial became controversial because many Sierra Leoneans considered the CDF to have protected them from the depredations of the RUF Some of the top brains behind those acts of cruelty in Sierra Leone are today in Mpanga prison.
It will be interesting to see how the former enemies will spend their years together in the “special wing” of the prison. Will they forget that they are Temne, Mende, Kono, Kamajor tribesmen and share time together?
Will they maintain their rebel group affiliation and enmity? One thing is clear; despite their cruelty and brutality to other people they still have emotions because I heard Sesay sob on the phone prior to his departure for Kigali.