Sierra Leone says arrests soldiers planning presidential protest

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 20, 2013 2:11 PM
Sierra Leone says arrests soldiers planning presidential protest

FREETOWN (Reuters) - Sierra Leone's army said it arrested nine soldiers over the weekend for planning a protest during a visit by President Ernest Bai Koroma to his hometown.

The arrests highlight increasing disgruntlement with Koroma among the Sierra Leone army, who have complained of low wages and inadequate housing as the country struggles to emerge from the 1991-2002 civil war.

A source from the defense ministry, who asked not to be named, said the soldiers had actually intended to kidnap the president and murder the defense minister during the visit, which was later canceled - though that account could not be verified independently.

"We ... had suspicions of a protest against the president. We had heard about a suspicious meeting of junior officers and decided to make the arrest," army spokesman Michael Samura told Reuters.

He declined to comment on the report from the defense ministry source and did not say what the soldiers were planning to protest about.

Presidential spokesman Jarrah Kawusu-Konte said Koroma decided to cancel his weekend trip to Makeni, about 140 km (86 miles) north of the capital Freetown, at the last minute, but would not confirm if it was because of a security threat.

"The president is safe and this is no cause for alarm," Kawusu-Konte said.

Koroma won a second term in a presidential election last year, the country's third election since the end of the 11-year civil war that made it notorious for child soldiers and "blood diamonds" used by rebels to fund the conflict.

(Reporting by Christo Johnson and Nina de Vries; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Andrew Heavens)