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Soldiers accused of killing civilians in Sierra Leone

June 28, 1997

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) _ Soldiers killed at least 25 villagers in southern Sierra Leone, according to witnesses who reached the capital Saturday after fleeing a region that has been a center of opposition to the country’s new military junta.

Violence has continued since last month’s coup, despite military leader Maj. Johnny Paul Koroma’s pledges he will restore order in the country, which is just emerging from six years of civil war.

The witnesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the dead included the father of Vice President Joseph Demby, who was ousted by low-ranking soldiers last month along with President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. The attacks occurred Thursday night in villages near Bo, a military headquarters town near the Liberian border, 150 miles southwest of Freetown.

Both Kabbah and Demby are in exile in neighboring Guinea.

Thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees have streamed into Liberia in recent days, bringing with them reports of fighting along the Liberian border between the Sierra Leonean army and the Kamajor, a militia backing the ousted government.

Koroma’s junta has refused to comment on the fighting.

Refugees from the Bo area told reporters in Freetown that soldiers were apparently searching for Kamajor fighters when they surrounded the home of Albert Sani Demby, a traditional chief. The soldiers took the chief from his compound and shot him in the stomach, killing him.

The soldiers then attacked two other villages, killing another chief and at least 25 other civilians, witnesses said.

In addition to those reports Saturday, the independent newspaper Voice of di People said unidentified attackers firing automatic rifles, grenade launchers and mortars forced all the residents of Moyamba to flee the town last week. Moyamba, 120 miles south of Freetown, was a stronghold of Kabbah’s Sierra Leone People’s Party.

Koroma has portrayed himself as committed to peace, and accused Kabbah of retreating from a truce agreement with the Revolutionary United Front. The RUF, which fought a series of Sierra Leonean governments beginning in 1991, has thrown its support to Koroma.

In a statement Saturday, Koroma’s Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, or AFRC, asked neighboring countries to reconsider efforts to isolate the military regime.

After meeting in Guinea last week, 14 African foreign secretaries recommended negotiations, economic sanctions and even force as possible ways to restore Kabbah to power.

``The AFRC regards such measures as counter-productive, in the sense that it will not only hurt the people of Sierra Leone but will further lead to the economic sinking of the country,″ the military junta said.

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