Thursday, March 08, 2007

Chief Norman's Remains Arrives in Freetown

The body of Chief Hinga Norman, who died mysteriously in the custody of the UN-Sierra Leone Special Court over a week ago, arrived from Dakar, Senegal.

Mr. Norman had been in the detention of the Court for four years. He died after what the Court described as a "routine" operation on his hip in a Senegalese military hospital. Court Registrar Lovemore Munlo described the operation as "successful" but sources say Mr. Norman died bleeding profusely.

An autopsy was conducted on the body Monday 5 March and the result of the autopsy - conducted by pathologists representing the Court and the Sierra Leone government - was expected to be announced the next day, Tuesday. As at press time, the results had not been announced. An independent pathologist to have represented Norman's family, hired by former UK High Commissioner Peter Penfold and Sam Norman Norman Jr, son of the late Mr. Norman, in London was unable to make the trip to Senegal due to administrative bottlenecks. The result of the autopsy is unlikely therefore to settle the mystery surrounding Mr.

Norman's sudden death.

Autopsy results around the death of famous and powerful figures in potentially volatile countries are often notoriously controversial. The result of the autopsy conducted on the body of Nigerian politician Chief M. K.O Abiola, conducted by a Canadian pathologist in 1998, is still disputed. Mr. Abiola was believed to have been poisoned in prison but the Canadian blithely asserted that he had died a natural death.

Mr. Norman died while awaiting the verdict in his trial for alleged war crimes committed in the course of his leadership of the Civil Defence Force (CDF), a pro-democracy volunteer force that resisted the forces of Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and rogue government soldiers, during Sierra Leone's recent civil war. Mr. Norman became hugely popular as a hero for his war efforts, and he was a senior minister in the current government at the time of his indictment.

President Tejan Kabbah, who feared the rising popularity of Mr. Norman, quickly distanced himself from his former ally. If found not guilty, as many of Mr. Norman's supporters predicted, Mr. Norman's release would have sparked a chain reaction which might have upset the fragile political settlement in which Mr. Kabbah is a figurehead of a government run by Western donors.

A press release from spokesman of the Norman family, Alfred Sam Foray, states that a public viewing "and paying of respects by Freetown and Western Area residents" of Mr. Norman's body will be hosted by civil society on Thursday 8 March at Queen Victoria Park in central Freetown. Mr. Norman's body will then be taken to Bo, where a Christian burial will be arranged. He will be buried at Ngolala, a village near Mongere, several miles from Bo.

Mr. Norman first shot to national prominence in 1967 when, as a young captain in the army, he was ordered by the late Brigadier David Lansana to arrest Siaka Stevens and the Governor General, in a holding coup meant to prevent Stevens' inauguration as Prime Minister after disputed elections. Lansana was a protégé of Albert Margai, the outgoing Prime Minister.

The vindictive Stevens later arrested and imprisoned Mr. Norman for years. Mr. Norman fled Sierra Leone after his release, and returned only after soldiers overthrew the All Peoples Congress' government - installed by Stevens - in 1992. By then a bloody civil war had started in the country. Mr. Norman was made Regent Chief of Telu Bongor Chiefdom, not far from Bo, by the young soldiers. There he started the experiment that would grow into the CDF. He organized a volunteer force of dozens of young men to defend the chiefdom.

RUF rebels and rogues soldiers one night descended on the Telu, his headquarters, and murdered nearly a hundred people in the town. Mr. Norman escaped miraculously.

He accelerated his civilian defence effort, and scored successes by reducing attacks in the Chiefdom and beyond. When the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) came to power in 1996, Mr. Norman was made Deputy Defence Minister, and empowered to expand the CDF. The core of the CDF was the Kamajors, a Mende hunter militia. The force became the sole internal force that the government came to rely on, particularly after the army collaborated with the RUF and overthrew the government in 1997. While every other minister fled, Mr. Norman remained in the country and helped organize resistance against the junta. The junta was unseated in February 1998. Mr. Kabbah's government was reinstated.

To the shock of many, Mr. Norman was among the first to be indicted by the UN-created Special Court. He was brusquely arrested in his office - he had then been made Minister of Internal Affairs - and detained by the Court four years ago. Mr. Norman was taken to Dakar for medical treatment on 17 January this year.

According to Sam Foray, Mr. Norman was held "in the worst possible prison cell" in Dakar, before his transfer to a military hospital. Even here, "regrettably he was not held at nor did he die at a VIP wing of a prestigious military hospital as claimed by the lies of Court Spokesman Peter Andersen." Mr.

Andersen could not be reached for comments, but independent sources confirm Mr. Foray's claims.

Thousands are expected to attend Mr. Norman's funeral ceremony in Bo.

Link to allAfrica.com: Sierra Leone: Chief Norman's Remains Arrive Today (Page 1 of 1)