Sierra Leone under curfew after military armoury attack

Armed clashes erupted in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown on Sunday after what the government said was an attack on a military armoury, as it imposed an immediate national curfew.

Witnesses told AFP they heard gunshots and explosions in the city’s Wilberforce district, where the armoury is located along with a number of embassies.

Other witnesses reported exchanges of fire near a barracks in Murray Town district, home to the navy, as well as outside another military site in Freetown.

Video posted on social networks suggested numerous prisoners had escaped from the central jail.

One man who was in a group filmed on the street by an AFP correspondent said they had escaped from the prison.

Drone video taken by AFP showed otherwise empty streets in the capital.

The situation remained confused after midday with the authorities making no further comments on the motives of the attackers after saying calm had been restored.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) issued a statement underlining “its zero-tolerance for unconstitutional change of government”.

Echoing language used to condemn past coup attempts, ECOWAS spoke of its “utter disgust” over a “plot by certain individuals to acquire arms and disturb the peace and constitutional order in Sierra Leone”.

Witness Susan Kargbo told AFP by telephone she was woken “by a loud sound of heavy machine gun (fire) and bombs coming from the Wilberforce barracks around 4:30 am.

“I was shocked and … the gunshots continued until this morning, it was like a war,” she said.

Attackers ‘repelled’

The government said those attempting to break into the armoury at a major army barracks had been repelled, but the public were asked to stay at home.

“The public is assured that the government and our state security forces are in control,” said Information Minister Chernor Bah.

“To enable the security forces to continue the process of apprehending the suspects, a nationwide curfew is declared with immediate effect across the country,” the minister said.

No details were given on the alleged perpetrators of the attack.

Sierra Leone, an English-speaking country in West Africa, has been going through a political crisis following presidential and general elections in June this year.

President Julius Maada Bio also offered assurances that calm had been returned to the capital.

“In the early hours of this morning, there was a breach of security at the Military Barracks at Wilberforce in Freetown, as some unidentified individuals attacked the military armoury,” he posted on X, formerly Twitter.

“However, they were repelled by our gallant Security Forces and calm has been restored,” said Bio.

“As the combined team of our Security Forces continue to route out the remnant of the fleeing renegades, a nationwide curfew has been declared and citizens are encouraged to stay indoors,” Bio said.

He added 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” and was “resolute in our determination to protect democracy in Sierra Leone.”

The US embassy condemned on social media the bid to break into the armoury and offered continued support for those “working for a peaceful, democratic, healthy and prosperous Sierra Leone”.

Bio, who was 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 run-off.

International observers condemned inconsistencies and a lack of transparency in the count, as well as acts of violence and intimidation.

The main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) party disputed the results of the presidential, legislative and local elections on June 24 and boycotted all levels of government.

The APC and the government signed an agreement in October following talks mediated by the Commonwealth, the African Union and the West African bloc ECOWAS.

The APC agreed to end its boycott and begin participating in government in exchange for an end to detentions and court cases it said were politically motivated.

AFP

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