As recently promised by a certain ex-combatant now running for President of Sierra Leone, the APC-led Government is being 'tormented' by ex-combatant groups which have been sprouting up. Ex-soldiers on Thursday 2nd August 2012, attacked the Minister of Defense, Rtd. Major Palor Conteh at his Ministry of Defence (MOD) offices in Freetown cutting off half of his safari suit top and leaving his white undervest exposed.
It may be recalled that aggrieved former soldiers had few years back, taken their case to Human Rights Commission (HRC) which upon investigation, had ordered the Government to pay the soldiers. Delays in the processing of the said payments had led to a series of demonstrations by the former soldiers.
Interestingly, this HRC group is now being joined by other aggrieved soldiers who are claiming various other benefits not related to the claims which were supported by the HRC.
Awareness Times contacted the Minister after the incident. He said the day before (Wednesday), the former soldiers from the HRC claimants and the new claimants, all stormed MOD demonstrating for their benefits. He was away from the office but he spoke to them on the phone and arranged for them to assemble at his office the next morning (Thursday) so he could update them on the status of processing of their various payments. Indeed, the soldiers assembled at MOD offices as planned.
According to the Minister, "I explained to them how far we had processed their payments at the Accountant General's Office and they all seemed to understand as I explained the various steps which had been taken. The atmosphere was quite cordial between us".
"I also updated them on the meeting President Koroma had held with a handful selected by themselves to make representation to the President. Following my updates, I asked them if they had any questions," Palor Conteh continued.
He said many responded that they now understood the issues but he noticed two of them were involved in a fierce argument.
"Unfortunately for me, I drew near them to figure out what they were arguing about. One of them at that point jumped on me and without saying a word, simply tore off half of my safari suit," Palor Conteh explained as he debunked the reports that he was subjected to a severe beating by the ex combatants.
"No, it is not true to say I was beaten up by the former soldiers," Conteh stated. Other internet reports had claimed video evidence shows him being "beaten up as he muscularly fought back". The Minister denies this saying "It happened quite fast; totally unexpected but it is quite wrong to say I was beaten up".
Meanwhile, the Secretary General of the Sierra Leone Ex-servicemen Association (SLEA), Retired Colonel Gottor spoke to Awareness Times last night. He condemned the attack.
"The Minister was meeting with them as a sign of the respect he has for them. What happened was wrong and the Sierra Leone Ex Servicemen Association condemns it," Rtd. Colonel Gottor said adding, "Some people are creating strange ex-combatant groups which are not recognised by us. We do not understand where all these groups are coming from or what their motives really are".
© Copyright by Awareness Times
Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.