Sierra Leone defies junta by refusing to go to work

The people of Sierra Leone showed their refusal to accept the military junta of Johnny Paul Koromah yesterday by refusing to go to work despite threats and reprisals.

The same determination that inspired the massive turn out in the elections last year, when the population disregarded mortar fire and rifle fire in order to vote, seems to have manifested itself again in the form of widespread civil disobedience.

The secretary general of the labour union in Freetown, Kandeh Yillah, made it plain to the junta that workers were not going to tolerate another military dictatorship, "as long as the military govenment remains in power then they [the labour union] will withhold the service of all Sierra Leonian workers until the democratic government is allowed to return," he said yesterday.

Another civic movement known as the Kamajors - which means hunter in the local dialect - are putting military pressure on the army/RUF alliance. Originally the Kamajors were the trible chieftains' personal bodyguard and the first line of defence against the RUF, who slaughtered the those chiefs who refused to assist or join them.

They later organised into much larger groups and were instrumental in forcing the RUF to the negotiating table in November 1996.

Although little more than organised tribal militias, they have proved to be an highly effective force and enjoy a cult-like status and popularity among the people.

They presently control most of the south and east of the country and are loyal to the overthrown democratic government of Abdul Tejan Kabbah, who is currently in exile in Guinea.

According to Ambassador Dinka, the UN special envoy in Sierra Leone, "not a single part of the society is supporting the RUF/Army alliance".

This is hardly surprising considering the barbaric atrocities committed by the RUF since 1991. High on mixtures of of marijuana and gunpowder they have murdered,and looted.

Their leader on the ground at present appears to be Major Mosquito, an individual who was demoted three times forby Soday Sankoh, the official leader of the RUF.

The army is similary reviled due to its suspected complicity in the past with the rebels in looting and murder sprees, a suspicion that was widely held and then comfirmed by the alliance formed between the two in the recent coup.

The RUF was useful to the army in other ways - such as providing them with the raison d'etre and providing the a scapegoat for their own criminal activities.

With the threat of military intervention by the Nigerians whose warships straddle the harbour and whose troops continue to reinforce their base at Lungi opposite the Freetown peninsula and internal dissention and revolt in-country.

Koromah's position is looking more and more untenable there is also a very real possibility that the junta is about to implode with rumours around Freetown of a growing split between Koromah and his supporters and the hard line RUF commanders.