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Thursday, March 30, 2017
- While the West African Peacekeeping Force (ECOMOG) has managed to contain rebel attacks on villagers in eastern Sierra Leone, cattle farmers in the northern part of the country have not been so lucky.
According to reports reaching the capital of Freetown, former troops of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) in the north are stealing cattle and harassing farmers in the area.
Most affected are towns and villages in the Bombali district, about 180 kilometres from the capital, where armed remnants of the junta, which was deposed in February by ECOMOG, are on the rampage. They are reported to be armed with AK-47 and AK 58 rifles.
“In just over two weeks, I’ve lost to cattle rustlers 100 cattle and two of my herdsmen, who were tortured and then shot dead,” said Pa Wurie Jalloh of Kamakwie, 250 kilometres from Freetown in the north.
Pa Jalloh adds that more than 2000 cattle have so far been either stolen or shot indiscriminately around Bombali, while twice that number have reportedly been taken by the marauding bandits in other northern towns and villages.
Since the junta was dislodged by ECOMOG in March from its northern headquarters town of Makeni, hundreds of AFRC soldiers and their allies from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) have retreated to the villages with their weapons.
The retreating rebels have set up bases in Krubola and Bafodia communes in the northern district of Koinadugu, which borders neighbouring Guinea.
ECOMOG is yet to be deployed in the northern areas, since it is still trying to rout out the remnants of the junta in Sierra Leone’s two major eastern districts, Kono and Kailahun. This leaves a security vacuum in the north.
According to some ECOMOG officials, inadequate manpower is delaying their overall deployment into outlying towns and villages in the country’s interior.
“The bandits(rebels) often attack us in broad daylight with rifles, disposses us of money and belongings and then go on a shooting spree of our cattle,” said Samba Iyne, a cattle farmer.
Foday Lahai Kamara, a cattle trader in Manjoro village, about 45 kilometres from Makeni, told IPS that most of the cattle stolen from Bombali district by the rebels are being re-sold in neighbouring districts.
“The cattle they steal in Bombali are sold in Koinadugu district, while those stolen from Kono district are re-sold in Tonkolili district,” Kamara said.
When the local farmers and herdsmen put up resistance, they are allegedly tortured, and some have been killed. Their cattle also have been shot in large numbers.
Cattle-rearing is a big business in Sierra Leone’s northern districts, which supply beef to the rest of the country.
Alhaji Sallieu Shaw, who comes from Bafodia, said the cattle rustlers have opened conduits on the border with Guinea and are engaged in a flourishing business with Guineans.
“Sometimes they drive in big trucks with dozens of cattle across the porous border into neighbouring Guinea where they sell their loot,” he said.
“You can’t do anything. You just stand by and watch as they pack your cattle in trucks and drive away, after discharging warning shots in the air,” Shaw added.
The Guinean authorities have not commented officially on the allegations of cattle being traded across their border.
“Unless the authorities crackdown hard on poaching rebels, there will be a scarcity of beef and a corresponding upsurge in prices,” said farmer Mammadu Bah.