We're grateful, says Sierra Leone minister

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The Independent Online
THE Sierra Leone government yesterday said that anyone questioning the role of British officials in returning the elected president to power should be ashamed of themselves.

Dr Julius Spencer, the Minister for Information, said he thought people were "missing the point" in the row about possible collusion between Foreign Office officials and Sandline International.

"I would have to say that if the British government and British officials were involved in supplying arms, then the British people should be proud of their government," he told BBC Radio 4's The World At One.

"If they did, they did something that has changed the course of history for the better. The people of Sierra Leone are immensely grateful. Let the British people, or the Opposition come to Sierra Leone and then they will know what the people here are feeling.

"If people knew how bad life had been under the illegal regime, they would be ashamed people were raising this issue. Even if the law was broken people should be happy that it was broken for a good reason."

Johnny Paul Koroma led the factions which ousted the elected president, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, in May 1997. In the 10 months before he was ousted in February 1998, experts believe his regime was responsible for hundreds of deaths. Britain never recognised his legitimacy and invited President Kabbah to attend the Commonwealth summit in Edinburgh.

The deal between Sandline was brokered initially through a third party, Rakesh Saxema, but the contract between the mercenaries and the exiled Sierra Leone government was signed by President Kabbah, or on his behalf by Solomon Berewa, the country's Solicitor General. The deal was settled in cash.

Yesterday Sandline repeated its claim that it believed it was acting with the approval of "Her Majesty's Government".

Its solicitor, Richard Slowe, said: "President Kabbah's government has at all times been the only internationally recognised lawful government of Sierra Leone and UN Security Council resolution 1132, which imposed sanctions, called for the return of the government.

"Kabbah personally signed the agreement with Sandline for the provision of personnel and military equipment as well as the End User Certificate for that equipment. My clients have been advised that no offence had been committed."