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Sierra Leone repels attack on Freetown barracks by “renegade soldiers“

2023-11-26T15:46:55Z

Sierra Leone said it had pushed “renegade soldiers” who attempted to break into a military armoury in Freetown during the early hours of Sunday back to the outskirts of the capital and had restored calm, after imposing a nationwide curfew.

The West African country’s civil aviation authority urged airlines to reschedule flights after the curfew was declared, while a soldier on its frontier with neighbouring Guinea told Reuters they had been instructed to shut the border.

A Reuters journalist, who earlier witnessed an armed group of men commandeer a police vehicle near the Wilberforce barracks, said nearby streets were mostly empty.

“We’ll clean this society. We know what we are up to. We are not after any ordinary civilians who should go about their normal business,” one of the masked men, who was dressed in military fatigues, said before driving away.

Sierra Leone has been tense since President Julius Maada Bio was re-elected in June, a result rejected by the main opposition candidate and questioned by international partners including the United States and the European Union.

In August 2022, at least 21 civilians and six police officers were killed in anti-government protests in Sierra Leone, which is still recovering from a 1991-2002 civil war in which more than 50,000 were killed and hundreds maimed. Bio said the protests were an attempt to overthrow the government.

Sierra Leone’s interior minister David Taluva told Reuters that the assailants had attacked a police barracks after running out of ammunition and had seized more arms from police officers.

Sustained gunfire could still be heard in some neighbourhoods of Freetown as residents hunkered down in their homes around 1500 GMT on Sunday, Reuters reporters said.

Sierra Leone’s information minister Chernor Bah said in a statement that most of Freetown was calm and under the control of security forces, who had engaged the assailants in the Jui district in the eastern fringes of the city.

Bah said that major detention centres including the Pademba Road prisons were attacked and inmates released by the unidentified assailants, confirming earlier reports from a government source.

It was not immediately clear how many prisoners had broken out of the facility, which a U.S. State Department report said was designed for 324 inmates but held more than 2,000 in 2019.

Videos posted on social media, which were not autheticated by Reuters, showed several people fleeing from the area of the prison, while gun shots could be heard in the background.

“The security forces were forced to make a tactical retreat. The prisons were thus overran,” said Bah, who had earlier issued a statement declaring a nationwide curfew and calling for people to stay indoors.

The Economic Community of West African States condemned what it called an attempt by certain individuals to “acquire arms and disturb constitutional order” in Sierra Leone. The U.S. embassy in Freetown said such actions were not justified.

Bio praised the “gallant security forces” for repelling the “renegades” and said calm had been restored.

“We shall continue to protect the peace and security of Sierra Leone against the forces that wish to truncate our much-cherished stability,” Bio said on social media.

There have been eight military coups in West and Central Africa since 2020, shaking democracy in the region.

Related Galleries:

Hooded armed men in military fatigues stand on a street after unidentified gunmen attacked military barracks and attempted to break into an armoury at Congo Cross roundabout in Freetown, Sierra Leone November 26, 2023. REUTERS/Umaru Fofana

Sierra Leone’s President and ruling party candidate Julius Maada Bio speaks to journalists after casting his vote for national elections at a polling station in Freetown, Sierra Leone, June 24, 2023. REUTERS/Cooper Inveen/File Photo
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