zondag 20 augustus 2017

Rebel leader dead - again

Sierra Express Media reports this Sunday August 20 that former Sierra Leonean junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma died August 10th, 2017. The digital newspaper says that the report has been confirmed. The news is not substantiated by any other media.  

Today's news about the death of Johnny Paul Koroma earlier this month surprises me. The former rebel leader and head of state of Sierra Leone after the 1997 coup was claimed dead many times, even as early as 2003. Others say he was hiding in the bush of neighbouring country Liberia.

More than ten years ago I was the landlord of someone closely related to 'JPK' - of whom I had never heard till then. During that time I was approached several times - with both threats as well as offers of huge sums of money - by men who claimed to be from the Sierra Leonean authorities. Somehow they seemed to believe that I could provide them with information that could lead them to Koroma. Their story was not very credible and in any case I referred them to the Dutch authorities. At some point police investigators came to my house when my lodger was missing (and so, ironically, my present bedroom once was sealed off by the police) and one night I got police protection.

It was only then that I heard about the history of Johnny Paul Koroma. Exactly during the time those incidents happened around my house, the Special Court of Sierra Leone (SCSL) in Freetown announced the - untill then kept secret - indictment of Charles Taylor for hiding Johnny Paul Koroma as well as for his own involvement in the civil war. Charles Taylor was still president of Liberia and suspected of hiding JPK, and called upon by the court to give up and extradite the man he was protecting. During that time, in 2003, the first claims came out that JPK had died in hiding.

Charles Taylor later fled to Nigeria, got asylum there at first but later he was extradited to the Sierra Leonean tribunal. Though the court was located in Freetown, the sessions for the Taylor trial were moved to the Netherlands for security reasons. During the trial, Taylor was held in custody in the Hague (Scheveningen). I attended the trial a few times, especially the verdict hearing and the sentence hearing. Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years imprisonment, and is now a guest of the Queen of England for the rest of his life.

So I have seen Taylor for real a few times, but I have been wondering what happened to his 'special friend' Johnny Paul Koroma. Many were convinced he was dead. I wonder whether there will be proof of his death now (and his being alive till this month).

The pain of the gruesome civil war is not forgotten. Yet, I see little resentment by the people who lived through it. Many of them are still struggling to survive through times of ebola, floods, political uncertainty, corruption and poverty.

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