Sierra Leone Ruling Party Dismisses Arms Intimidation Concerns

Posted April 16th, 2012 at 5:20 am (UTC-5)
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The secretary-general of Sierra Leone's ruling party has dismissed suggestions that a shipment of arms may be used to intimidate political opponents, and says President Ernest Bai Koroma is committed to holding fair elections in November.

Victor Foe told VOA the arms are necessary to equip Sierra Leone's growing police force, which has swelled from 5,000 members to 11,000.

The opposition Sierra Leone People's Party says the $5 million shipment is intended to intimidate its members ahead of the country's November 17 elections. But Foe describes it as a “proactive” move to protect both internal and external security.

“We don't want to go into war anymore. We as country are building upon the peace that we all achieved. I believe President Ernest Bai Koroma's government is not bringing in arms to intimidate the opposition or to fight innocent civilians, law-abiding Sierra Leonians. Look at what is happening in the sub-region. Look at what has happened in Mali. Look at what happens all around us.”

The United Nations Security Council said last week that Sierra Leone has made “steady progress” in emerging from its ten-year civil war, which ended in 2002.

It also noted the government's clarification on the arms delivery, after a leaked shipping document showed the weapons included heavy machine guns and grenade launchers.

The Security Council is calling on authorities in Sierra Leone to “respond proportionately” to security threats and for all political parties to promote an environment for holding peaceful, transparent elections.

Foe says those efforts are already underway.

“The Security Council is merely re-echoing what President Ernest Bai Koroma has said by the day, by the hour. President Ernest Bai Koroma is most committed to very peaceful, non-violent elections.”

U.N. troops withdrew from the West African country in 2005, but the organization retains a mission of about 200 people to ensure the coming election is peaceful and credible.