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Undue Embarrassment of Sierra Leone's Hugely Popular Opposition Leader: Foreign Minister Pleads Innocence to Voice of America
By Awareness Times
Jun 15, 2009, 19:48
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Sierra Leone's Foreign Minister, Madam Zainab Bangura has told the Voice of America News that her APC-led Government was innocent of the widely held perception that APC operatives had kickstarted a process to embarrass the country's hugely popular Opposition Leader whilst he was visiting America. Mrs. Bangura, currently facing intense media lambasting, now wants the world to believe that her Government did not even know that John Benjamin, the Opposition Leader, had left Sierra Leone. The VOA Report here follows whilst Mrs. Bangura has meanwhile summoned a Press Conference tomorrow morning. We will keep our readers informed:

Sierra Leone Government Denies Role in Opposition Leader's Alleged Questioning

15 June 2009

The National Chairman of Sierra Leones leading opposition party has said he suspects the government of President Ernest Bai Koroma was behind his brief detention and interrogation at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. on June second. 

John Benjamin of the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) said he believes the government was hoping to stop him from meeting with his supporters in the United States. 

But the Sierra Leone foreign ministry has denied Benjamins allegations saying admitting foreigners into the United States was exclusively the prerogative of U.S. immigration. 

Benjamin told VOA U.S. immigration authorities questioned him on his arrival about human rights abuses and atrocities in Sierra Leone's last military government.

They said they wanted to know what I was coming for. I told them. Then they said they had information about human rights and atrocities, blah, blah, blah. But I think it was just a political gimmick, he said

Benjamin said he has visited the United States on many occasions as an ordinary Sierra Leonean and was never interrogated.

But he said what has changed and which the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) government might not be comfortable with is the fact that he is now the leader of the main opposition.

You seeAmerica is the biggest country in the world, the strongest economy and if you have support here it makes your work easier back home. And it would not be in their (Koroma government) interest for us to come and have a strong base here in America, Benjamin said.

Benjamin said U.S. authorities questioned him about human rights abuses during Sierra Leones last military government.

He said he served as a civilian cabinet minister but denied he ever violated anyones human rights.

I was sort of most of the time working hard to ensure that we have sanity, that peoples rights were protected. I have nothing to fear. So they did not need to come after me in America, He said.

Benjamin said if the Koroma government had any concerns about past human rights abuses it should have turned to the Sierra Leone court system for redress.

Sierra Leone Foreign Minister Zainab Bangura denied her government had anything to do with Benjamins alleged detention and interrogation by U.S. immigration authorities.

I think this is unfortunate for somebody as educated as John Benjamin to even think that the Sierra Leone government has any influence with the United States government, she said.

Bangura said her government did not even know that Benjamin had left Sierra Leone. She said she first heard about it after receiving what she described as a serious late night phone call from President Koroma.

The first person I heard this from was the president who called me very late at night, very serious, and asked me to summon the American Ambassador and find out why John Benjamin was actually being interrogated, Bangura said.

She said it would not be in the interest of the Koroma government to pick a fight with the opposition at a time when the government has just signed a communiqu to develop better working relations with the opposition.

© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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