Koroma 'won't hand over power until 2001'

THURSDAY, 5.00PM

SIERRA Leone coup leader Major Johnny Paul Koroma said on Wednesday his military junta will not hand over power to a civilian government before 2001, effectively torpedoing peace talks in Abidjan.

Regional foreign ministers who have been negotiating with Koroma’s envoys in Abidjan for a return to civilian rule slammed the announcement and called for a tightening of economic sanctions against Sierra Leone.

In a nationwide radio and television broadcast, Koroma outlined a timetable for a return to civilian rule, after the completion of the work of a Constitutional Review Commission which he said had been set up with immediate effect.

Koroma, who toppled the elected civilian government of Tejan Kabbah on May 25, said non-party municipal elections will be held in December next year, with district council polls in August 1999. Provincial assembly elections, which will be constituency-based and run on political party tickets, are slated for May 2000, followed by a national parliamentary election in February 2001, with presidential elections in November 2001.

Koroma also announced the setting up of a National Political and Civic Education Commission, a Boundaries Commission to redraw constituencies, and a reconstituted Permanent Electoral Commission.

The junta leader warned: “We stand ready to defend the territorial integrity of Sierra Leone from any aggression, real or threatened, internal or external. Let no one doubt our resolve to do this to the last drop of our blood.”

Announcing the breakdown of the Abidjan talks only hours later, Nigerian Foreign Minister Chief Tom Ikimi said the economic embargo and sanctions declared against the military regime in Freetown will be strengthened. An international economic embargo imposed after the coup has left Sierra Leone almost without fuel and with dwindling food stocks. No ship or aircraft has called at Freetown for four months.

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