Freetown (AFP) Sept 28, 2010
Military coups are slowing growth in Africa and should not be part of the output of any army, Sierra Leone's new army chief said Tuesday in the country which has suffered six coups in four decades.
Brigadier-General Robert Koroma, appointed earlier this month, told AFP in an interview that Sierra Leone's army, which has swung in and out of power since independence in 1967 was now "working within the democratic framework."
"With the strong posture of democracy, coups are unnecessary as they tend to hinder development in Africa and strain the lives of the people," he said.
"Democracy is the answer to Africa's development rather than the overthrow of legitimate governments.
"For the army in Sierra Leone, we are working within the democratic framework and unlike the past when the army was not answerable to any institution, our activities are now monitored by Parliament and we are also subjected to financial auditing."
The west African nation began downsizing its army from 17,500 at the end of an 11-year rebel war and now has a force of 8,500.
"The country needs a thinner and well-catered for armed force and this is why a well-behaved professional army is being developed which is capable of participating in peace-keeping operations in warring countries."
Koroma said one of the urgent problems in his country was soldier's accommodation, which he described as "appalling".
"About 55 percent of the 8,500-strong force are presently residing outside the barracks and this is not good for security and discipline enforcement."
He said he was also working on plans to increase the number of women in the army who currently make up only five percent.
earlier related report
A year after junta troops descended on a peaceful opposition rally in Conakry's main stadium, killing over 150 people and raping scores of women, the only remembrance was in mosques or churches where families gathered to pray.
Human rights organisations say justice has not been done a year after the massacre, which has been described as a crime against humanity.
"Imprisoning the culprits is not the solution," said Diallo, speaking to AFP in a telephone interview from the Guinea capital Conakry.
Diallo himself was badly beaten by soldiers during the chaos that erupted on September 28, 2009, and he said he was evacuated to Senegal and later France where he was treated for four broken ribs.
The former prime minister led a first round of voting in June and is due to face off against opposition politician Alpha Conde in a second round.
"If I am elected president, I am thinking of putting in place a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Not necessarily to punish people but to condemn the really barbaric acts that were committed and which should be completely banned from our armed forces and the police," he said.
While organisations such as Human Rights Watch urged leaders not to let justice slide, the country's transitional government had yet to set a date for a second round of voting three months after the first was held.
The president of a victims association Ibrahima Barry, said requests to hold a symbolic ceremony inside the stadium where the violence took place were denied by prime-minister Jean-Marie Dore due to tension in the country.
"We wanted to gather in the stadium, lay wreaths of flowers, light candles in memory of the disappeared," Barry, told AFP on leaving a church service.
Paying tribute to the victims earlier, Barry said it was "thanks to their sacrifice" that one could even talk about a second round of voting.
Human Rights Watch said, in a statement on the eve of the anniversary, that bringing those responsible for the massacre to justice should be a top priority.
"While the mothers, fathers, spouses, and children of those murdered one year ago still grieve for their loved ones, the people who planned, perpetrated, and tried to cover up this atrocious act remain free men," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher.
"Justice for the victims simply should not be allowed to slide, as it has for so many other acts of state-sponsored violence."
After half a century of despotic rule, Guinea's latest political crisis erupted when Captain Moussa Dadis Camara led a coup shortly after the death of president Lansana Conte in December 2008.
It was against Camara's attempts to cling to power that tens of thousands gathered in Guinea's biggest stadium for a peaceful rally.
"Members of the Presidential Guard, gendarmes, anti-riot police and militia in civilian clothes opened fire on the crowds in the packed stadium and on people struggling to escape," said Human Right Watch.
"More than 100 women at the rally suffered brutal sexual violence at the hands of the security forces."
Since January, after Camara survived an assassination bid in which he was shot in the head, General Sekouba Konate has been leading the transition until the election of a civilian president.
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