West Side Boys Leader ordered seizure in 'fit of drunken pique'

Kim Sengupta
Monday 11 September 2000 00:00
Comments

Four months ago, standing in the ruins of the town of Masiaka, a British Army lieutenant- colonel faced a drunken gang of West Side Boys who had swaggered in, demanding guns.

Four months ago, standing in the ruins of the town of Masiaka, a British Army lieutenant- colonel faced a drunken gang of West Side Boys who had swaggered in, demanding guns.

After seeing them off, he shook his head: "We shall have to sort them out soon. The problem is that our political masters see them as allies and not for what they are - a bunch of murderous thugs."

But no one did sort them out and the West Side Boys were soon seizing arms and ammunition from their erstwhile allies, the Sierra Leone army, and secreting them in their bases in the Occra Hills. They also manned roadblocks on the main road out of the capital which became points of extortion, rape and kidnapping.

The United Nations, the Sierra Leone government and Britain turned a blind eye, because the militias were part of the government coalition against the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front. So the West Side Boys, who while allied to the RUF had carried out the worst atrocities when the rebels took Freetown last year, were reinvented as "part of the government forces", with their leader, Johnny Paul Koroma, in the cabinet.

Mr Koroma, who seized power in the past and invited the RUF to join his governing coalition, was regarded with increasing fondness by the British government. The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, said he was a changed man who had found God. The feeling was that Mr Koroma was needed to keep his Boys under control.

But the militias were slipping out of any sort of control and the Sierra Leone government was forced to arrest their chief military commander, who liked to be known as Commander Bomb Blast or Papa to his homicidal young charges, some as young as eight.

It was this arrest and chagrin about being sidelined from power which led to the capture of the 11 members of the Royal Irish Regiment, who for reasons yet to be explained had gone into the Occra hills. Commander Bomb Blast's successor, "Brigadier" Foday Kallay, was apparently incensed that they had entered his territory without permission and, in a fit of drunken pique, ordered their seizure. The demands of Brigadier Kallay varied from the provision of a satellite phone and generator to the dissolution of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah's government and the formation of a new one including the West Side Boys.

As negotiations continued, and "Commander Cambodia", one of the militia leaders, called the BBC World Service with the satellite telephone to give an interview, the treatment of the hostages rapidly began to get worse. Brigadier Kallay's girlfriend, captured with him yesterday, was one of the chief instigators of the torment.

The hostages were stripped of their uniforms and put through mock executions. Conditions in the huts were said to be atrocious and the amount of food they received depended on the drug-induced whims of their jailers.

At the end, there was a fear that unless something was done, the hostages would die. Alan Jones, the high commissioner in Freetown, said: "We decided the hostages were at extreme risk and the kidnappers made threats which made us believe they would be harmed."

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in