Sierra Leone’s government said on Sunday evening it was in full control of the situation after reporting an attack on a military depot in the capital Freetown sparked armed clashes, which the president called an attempt to destabilize the situation. State.
President Julius Maada Bio said on Sunday evening that calm had been restored after what it described as an attempt to undermine peace and stability in the country.
“Most of the leaders have been arrested. Security operations and investigations are ongoing,” Bio told national television, adding that the government would “ensure that those responsible are held accountable.”
According to an AFP journalist, calm was slowly returning to the capital on Sunday evening, but checkpoints heavily guarded by security forces remained in place.
“The government is firmly in control of the security situation in Freetown, the attackers are retreating,” Information Minister Chernor Bah told AFP earlier.
Videos posted on social media appeared to show men in uniform under arrest in the back or alongside a military pickup truck.
Earlier in the day, witnesses told AFP they heard gunshots and explosions in the Wilberforce neighborhood, where the armory and some embassies are located.
Other witnesses reported exchanges of fire near a barracks in the Murray Town district, headquarters of the navy, and outside another military site in Freetown.
The Information Ministry reported attacks on prisons earlier in the day that forced security forces to retreat.
“The prisons were thus invaded”, with some prisoners being released and others “kidnapped”, the press release said.
A video posted on social media suggests that many prisoners have escaped from the central prison.
A man who was part of a group filmed in the street by an AFP correspondent said they had escaped from prison.
The information ministry said security forces had pushed the attackers back to the outskirts of Freetown, with drone video taken by AFP showing empty streets in the capital.
The situation remains unclear, with authorities making no comment on the motivations or identity of the attackers.
“Like a war”
President Bio wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that the government would “continue to protect the peace and security of Sierra Leone against the forces that wish to truncate our much-cherished stability.”
“We remain committed to protecting democracy in Sierra Leone.”
Dear Sierra Leoneans,
I bring you greetings from the Presidential Lodge in Freetown.
In the early hours of this morning, there was a security breach at the Wilberforce military barracks in Freetown, as unidentified individuals attacked the military armory.…
– Bio of President Julius Maada (@PresidentBio) November 26, 2023
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc, grappling with a series of coups among its members since 2020, issued a statement emphasizing “its zero tolerance towards unconstitutional changes of government.
Echoing the language used to condemn past coup attempts, ECOWAS expressed his “utter disgust” at a “plot by certain individuals to acquire weapons and disrupt peace and constitutional order.”
The US Embassy condemned the attempt to break into the armory on social media and offered its continued support to those “working for a peaceful, democratic, healthy and prosperous Sierra Leone”.
The local representation of the European Union expressed its concern and called for respect for the constitutional order.
Susan Kargbo, a witness, told AFP by telephone that she was woken up “by a loud noise of heavy machine gun (fire) and bombs coming from Wilberforce barracks around 4:30 a.m.”.
“I was shocked and… the gunshots continued until this morning, it was like a war,” she said.
The attackers “repulsed”
The government said those trying to enter the armory were repelled, but asked the public to stay at home while security operations continued.
Local representations from the United Kingdom and the European Union have echoed the authorities’ advice to stay at home.
The civil aviation authority said Sierra Leone’s airspace remained open but asked airlines to reschedule flights after the curfew was lifted.
President Bio, first elected in 2018, was re-elected in June with 56.17 percent of the vote, just over the 55 percent needed to avoid a runoff.
International observers condemned the inconsistencies and lack of transparency in the count, as well as acts of violence and intimidation.
The main opposition party, the All People’s Congress (APC), contested the results of the June 24 presidential, legislative and local elections and boycotted all levels of government.
The APC and the government signed an agreement in October following negotiations mediated by the Commonwealth, African Union and ECOWAS.
The APC agreed to end its boycott and begin participating in government in exchange for an end to detentions and legal proceedings that it said were politically motivated.