Hundreds ignore flight ban, flee Sierra Leone
In this story:
May 30, 1997
Web posted at: 9:36 a.m. EDT (1336 GMT)
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (CNN) -- Hundreds of people fled Sierra Leone Friday, hopping rides with the U.S. Marines, the
United Nations or other nations' aircraft to escape the
country torn apart by mutinous soldiers in Sunday's coup.
Their flight came despite orders by coup leaders closing the
country's airspace and banning all flights.
Early Friday, a plane carrying 396 people, including 200
Britons, arrived at London's Gatwick Airport. On Thursday,
nearly 250 people on a Middle East Airlines jet.
The U.S. Marines flew in 14 helicopters to evacuate Americans
and other nationals assembled at a Freetown hotel. By
mid-morning, 237 evacuees had already been brought from Freetown
to the warship USS Kearsarge, about 20 miles off the coast of
Sierra Leone. Of the 237, 157 were American citizens.
|Col. Sam Helland USS Kearsarge|
|How the evacuations are proceeding
||(83K/7 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
|How citizens are being evacuated
|| (116K/7 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
|"No danger whatsoever."
|| (77K/6 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
|The number of people being evacuated
|| (72K/6 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
|The coordination efforts
|| (204K/17 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
|The evacuees' demeanor|| (121K/10 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Col. Sam Helland of the USS
Kearsarge said the force would probably evacuate more than 500 people. It had encountered
no threats in the mission so far, he said.
Evacuees report harrowing tales
Many evacuees said they had been robbed of everything but
their clothes before they fled the country. Maureen
Cummings, 36, said that after five attempts to break into her
family's compound, a group of soldiers rammed through the
gate in a military vehicle on Sunday night.
"We sat in the house and opened the door," said Cummings,
whose husband stayed behind to guard his flour mill business.
"Seven of them just went through our home taking everything.
It was really threatening."
Two Lebanese businessmen were killed during the coup. "Many
things are happening over there, people are so afraid.
They're stealing, raping," said Lebanese evacuee Darine
|A resident says lawlessness is running rampant.|
| (171K/15 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)|
Aid worker Vincent Dunn said looters ransacked his compound,
and houses around and opposite him. "It was tense when the
soldiers came into our compound, they were firing inside the
compound. We confronted them and asked them not to shoot at
us. We were quite disciplined," he said.
An unidentified female doctor described a similar situation.
"I think the situation is desperate out there, they have
destroyed Freetown, they have done so much damage, they have
looted everything ... Provision stores have been not just
looted but destroyed," she said.
Coup leaders denied that soldiers carried out the looting,
claiming that civilians "dressing up" as soldiers were
Nigerian troop arrival particularly tense
Evacuees also said shots were fired in an apparent standoff
at the airport between Nigerian peacekeeping soldiers, which
control one end of the airport, and Sierra Leone troops,
nominally responsible for the facility.
Nigerian troops overruled the Sierra Leone soldiers,
insisting on landing a Nigerian C-130 Hercules transport with
reinforcements and supplies.
Nigeria opposes the coup and favors the reinstatement of
ousted Sierra Leone President Ahmed Tajan Kabbah. The
country, a strong regional power, had already sent in 700
troops to help provide stability in Kabbah's fledgling
democracy. It sent in 900 more Thursday, and is expected to
move against coup leader Maj. Johnny Paul Koroma under a
State-run Nigerian radio on Thursday night warned Koroma and
his fellow renegade soldiers to give up their coup.
"(Kabbah) is the elected leader of his country, and Nigeria
recognizes him as such. Maj. Koroma and his comrades should
consider the party over and negotiate their return to the
barracks," said state-run Voice of Nigeria radio.
Sunday's was the third coup in five years in Sierra Leone, a
mineral-rich country impoverished by decades of corruption,
political strife and civil war. Kabbah fled the country
Sunday after the coup; he was democratically elected in
February 1996, and installed a civilian government, ending
several years of military rule.
Correspondent Jamie McIntyre and
Reuters contributed to this report.
Related sites: Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.
© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.