Friday, June 01, 2007

Texas market analyst is tied to 29 deaths in Sierra Leone

A government witness testified Wednesday that an Austin market analyst was involved in the mass killings of 29 people who planned to overthrow the leadership he helped establish in his native Sierra Leone in 1992.

The heavily disputed account of Joseph Gayah, a former bodyguard for Sierra Leon's head of state from 1992 to 1996, could be the critical factor in whether a San Antonio immigration judge decides whether Samuel "Sam" Kambo should be deported.

Kambo, 38, is in custody in San Antonio, fighting attempts by U.S. immigration authorities to boot him from this country based on allegations that he was involved in extrajudicial killings in December 1992.

Kambo has led an exemplary life in Texas for more than a decade, graduating with honors in engineering at the University of Texas at Austin and raising four U.S.-born children. But immigration authorities in San Antonio arrested him in October when he showed up for his green card interview.

His co-workers at the Lower Colorado River Authority in Austin and other supporters packed the small courtroom of Immigration Judge Gary Burkholder.

Before Wednesday, immigration officials had made no direct link between Kambo and the deaths of 29 prisoners — members of an administration Kambo helped overthrow.

Kambo has acknowledged he was a member of a military junta that overthrew then-President Joseph Momoh in April 1992. But he denies being involved in the killings eight months later, and testified he heard about the executions after the fact from Valentine Strasser.

Strasser led the April 1992 coup and proclaimed himself chairman of the ruling group that was established, the National Provisional Ruling Council.

The NPRC governed Sierra Leone until mid-1996.

Gayah, one of Strasser's bodyguards, testified that in December 1992, he helped round up some of the 29 prisoners suspected of plotting a coup to overthrow the NPRC. Most were loaded in a truck called the "black Maria," transported to a region of Sierra Leone near the Atlantic Coast and executed without standing trial, Gayah testified.

He said he was carrying out orders of the NPRC, and that Kambo was aware or present when the matters were discussed.

Kambo's lawyer, Simon Azar-Farr, attacked Gayah's credibility, questioning why he'd never come forward before, specifically when a human rights commission began investigating allegations of killings and genocide in Sierra Leone. Gayah said he had fled to neighboring Liberia because "Nigerians overran" Sierra Leone.

Kambo said he had no input in the arrests or killings.

"I thought I was not involved in any role to condemn them because I did not know what happened," Kambo testified. "I just took the word of Strasser, who said they had a trial."

Patrick Muana, an English professor and coordinator of Africana studies at Texas A&M University, testified that a research project he's working on about insurgencies in Africa found no link between Kambo and the killings.

The hearing resumes today.

Source: MySA.com: Metro | State