The Sierra Leone Web


January 1996

30 January: NPRC leader Brigadier Julius Maada Bio said Tuesday that the elections to return the country to civilian rule may have to be postponed. Bio said earlier that the elections would be held February 26 as planned. "The people might need to decide, taking into account the new factors that are coming to play, whether to keep that date or to postpone that date," he said. Bio cited the decision of the Revolutionary United Front to enter into peace talks with the government. "The RUF has been making some peace initiative and if they are serious about that and committed to it I think there is a very strong reason why the people should decide to relook at that date," Bio said. "That is a decision for the whole nation because that date was set by the people," he added.

20 January: Brigadier Julius Maada Bio flew to Conakry Saturday "to explain to Guinean head of state Lansana Conte the reasons for the change of government in Sierra Leone," SLBS (state radio) said. Speaking to reporters in Conakry, Bio said, "I came to see my elder brother Lansana Conte to preserve our relations with Conakry." He said he had come to explain what was happening in Freetown, and reaffirmed that elections to end military rule would be held February 26 as planned. Guinean authorities were reportedly upset not to have been warned in advance about the arrival of former head of state Captain Valentine Strasser, who was flown to Conakry by helicopter on Tuesday. Diplomats said Bio had brought two suitcases full of belongings and a diplomatic passport for Strasser, who is expected to travel to the United States via Ghana. Bio returned to Freetown later on Saturday. A high-level Guinean delegation was in Freetown one day after Captain Valentine Strasser was overthrown on Tuesday. Strasser has sought refuge in Conakry.

19 January: Brigadier Julius Maada Bio named a new cabinet Friday, appointing new ministers to key posts. Former Freetown Mayor Alfred Akibo-Betts was named Minister of Marine Resources. Finance Minister and NUP presidential candidate John Karimu was replaced by Samura Kamara, a former financial secretary in the ministry, and For Di People newspaper editor and human rights campaigner Paul Kamara has been named Minister for Lands, Housing and the Environment. Foreign minister Alusine Fofanah has been replaced by Melvin Chelbah, a former economist at the Abidjan-based African Development Bank. Youth and Sports Minister Suliman Banja Tejan Sie, who has also been sacked. The changes have led some to doubt whether Bio will follow through on his pledge to hold elections in February to return the country to civilian rule. "I still have to reflect on the new Cabinet and advise myself as to whether the government will be influenced by those who are there at the moment to change their minds," said SLPP presidential candidate Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. Interim National Elections Council Chairman James Jonah said the purpose of the cabinet reshuffle was to get rid of ministers with political ambitions, and he expressed his faith in the new regime's commitment to return to democratic rule. "You either ask civil servants to take over or appoint ministers. Somebody has to run these departments," said Jonah.

Guinean Foreign Minister Cozo Zoumanigui visited Freetown on Friday for talks with the new leadership.

The newspaper For Di People gave an account of the palace coup Friday, saying that Strasser was punched and kicked to the ground before being handcuffed and bundled into a helicopter with Bio's pistol put at his head.

16 January: NPRC head of state Captain Valentine Strasser was ousted Tuesday in a palace coup and replaced by his deputy, Brigadier Julius Maada Bio. The new government has announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew, and called upon all ministers should report to defence headquarters for consultations. The new government suspended plans for a February 26 vote to return the country to civilian rule. Director of Defence Information Lt. Col. Karifa Kargbo, speaking over SLBS (state radio), accused Strasser of wanting to cling to power, but announced that the scheduled elections were on hold. "Captain Strasser has been removed from office and has safely left these shores due to his blatant attempts to implement legislation intended to be harmful to the democratic process," Kargbo said. "The electoral process has been suspended to allow discussions with all political parties," he added. Kargbo said Bio would address the country soon. "Any soldiers except those under special military command are instructed to keep off the streets," he added. Diplomats have said in the past that it was Bio, rather than Strasser, who appeared anxious to remain in power. Strasser last weekend declined an invitation to stand as a candidate for the National Unity Party. He also insisted elections should go ahead next month to return the country to civilian rule, despite continued fighting with rebels in the interior.