Sierra Leone rebel declares himself head of state
May 25, 1997
Web posted at: 8:27 p.m. EDT (0027 GMT)
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (CNN) -- Rebellious soldiers claimed
control of this small West African nation Sunday after
ousting President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, who fled into exile in
By late Sunday, the coup leader, a relatively unknown army
major named Johnny Paul Koroma, declared himself the new head of state
and invited fellow rebel leader Foday Sankoh to join the government.
"As custodians of state security and defenders of the
constitution (we) have today decided to overthrow the Sierra
Leone People's Party government," Koroma said over national radio.
The announcement was made following a dramatic series of
events Sunday in which rebels seized the legislature, burned
the national treasury and wreaked havoc throughout the
Coup leaders imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew and said that the
country's borders had been closed. The Freeport airport also
was shut down.
A spokesman for the mutineers, Capt. Paul Thomas, said
looters would be shot on sight. Meanwhile, rebellious troops were
seen pillaging houses in an affluent section of the capital.
Deposed President Kabbah fled to Conakry, Guinea, according
to Guinean newspaper L'Independante.
The coup comes six months after the civilian government
signed a peace accord with the rebel Revolutionary United
Front. The agreement ended a five-year civil war, which had
left at least 10,000 people dead and nearly a third of the
nation's 4.5 million residents homeless.
Gun battles rage in capital
The coup started early Sunday when about 20 heavily armed men
stormed Freetown's maximum security prison and freed an
estimated 600 inmates, including some soldiers jailed for
plotting against Kabbah. They then swept through the streets.
The mutineers took over the national assembly after clashing
with Nigerian troops near the presidential office complex in
Freetown, witnesses said. Nigerian troops were stationed in
the capital to help defend the civilian government against
Stray fire, including rocket-propelled grenades and mortar,
hit the U.S. Embassy, about 200 yards from the national
assembly building. The embassy suffered damage but there
were no reports of injuries.
But hospital officials said five civilians were killed
elsewhere in the capital as gun battles raged most of the day.
The State Department said two Americans were injured when their
home was looted. There was no word on their names or extent of
United Nations condemns coup
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a statement Sunday
condemning the coup. Annan said he was "distressed" by
Sunday's events and emphasized the need for a better democratic
system for Sierra Leone.
"The United Nations and the international community firmly
uphold the principle that the will of the people shall be the
basis for the authority of government and that governments
democratically elected shall not be overthrown by force," the
The United Nations had been trying to help the country recover from the
In Washington, the United States urged its citizens in
Freetown to stay indoors and said it was prepared to
evacuate them if necessary. About 400 Americans live in
Related sites: Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.
© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.