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Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission sits for ninth hearing | 20 September 2019

Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission sits for ninth hearing

The Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission yesterday sat for its ninth hearing in which it heard evidence pertaining to numerous cases of alleged human rights violations during the 1977 Coup against late former President James Mancham.

 

Case #001 Shooting of Davidson Chang-Him: Former Chief of Defence Forces back to answer questions pertaining to compensation for Chang-Him family under the Presidential Decree of 1977

Former Chief of Defence Forces Leopold Payet appeared before the commission again yesterday, this time with the relevant files from the fund set up in October 1977 by Presidential Decree, which provides for the families of three men killed during the coup, including the family of Davidson Chang-Him, to benefit from financial assistance under the fund, it would appear on a monthly basis.

Mr Payet stated that there were no documents on file which indicate payments were made to the Chang-Him family.

He continued to state that the first board to be appointed to manage the fund was appointed in 1985 but that he was only appointed to the board in 1993. Mr Payet proposed to present documents pertaining to the board to the commission.

The commission sought to find out how the fund was managed and why it was extended to allow families of injured soldiers and personnel from the people’s militia to benefit, if the beneficiaries explicitly stated in the decree, specifically the Chang-Him family, were not at the time benefitting, to which Mr Payet said he was not aware.

According to Mr Payet, he was a simple member on the board which was headed by a chairman, former President James Michel, who was also the Minister for Finance at the time. The board met every three months or so and consisted of a third member, former Governor of the Central Bank of Seychelles Francis Chang-Leng, according to Mr Payet.

“When the board met, recommendations were made and then a list was sent to the Ministry of Finance who issued payments. There is a long list from when I was on the board,” he said.

He recalled that families were allocated different amounts based on the decision of the Ministry of Finance but that the board would make recommendations as to beneficiaries.

The commission suggested that the board acted unlawfully by not honouring payments to the Chang-Him family as explicitly stated in the decree.

Mr Payet also proposed that the board on which he sat lasted three or four years and that he is not aware of any subsequent boards.

It must be noted that the commission heard evidence from the chief executive of the Agency for Social Protection (ASP) Marcus Simeon who suggested the fund is still active.

Mr Payet presented the commission with a file of documents pertaining to the fund.

 

- Case #0017 Mr Paul Chow detained and forced into exile and on role in mercenary attacks

The second witness to provide evidence before the commission was Paul Chow, who was also detained and forced into exile in the years following the coup. Mr Chow, the complainant, also addressed the commission’s queries pertaining to his role in the recruitment of mercenaries in the 1981 coup attempt.

Mr Chow started his account by stating that the witness before him, Mr Payet was but a “rubber stamp” in the processes to issue payments to the beneficiaries of the three men killed during the 1977 coup stating that the fund was kept secret from the public.

Recounting his personal experience of the coup and subsequent years, Mr Chow recounted that he was a good friend to Gerard Hoareau, who was an officer of the State House at the time until his appointment as the chief immigration officer upon returning from a meeting of Commonwealth leaders which he attended with late former President James Mancham.

Mr Chow continued to state that they both worked at Kingsgate House, where they met frequently and they decided to distribute an underground leaflet, for which Gerard wrote most of the articles, and Mr Chow was responsible for the production and printing at the business for which he worked.

“The leaflets were printed on stencils and not by the normal printing press. I printed those papers at 4am and I would come to the office, most of the time the security guard would be sleeping and I would clean the machine and duplicate a few hundred copies and I cleaned the machines,” Mr Chow noted.

He noted that the copies were kept in a bag over his desk and that he took the stencils home and burned them.

Mr Chow continued to state that he was arrested during a November evening in 1979 and that he had met with Mr Hoareau on that same morning discussing politics. Apparently, a French officer, who worked closely with the special branch, revealed a list of names to be arrested including that of Gerard Hoareau and sent a fellow officer to warn Mr Hoareau.

According to Mr Chow, at that very instance, two police officers, led by Tite Morin presented them the detention order and said we have been ordered to arrest you and therefore Mr Hoareau was led away.

“Around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, two police officers arrived with my detention order and I was taken to the police station where there were about 15 people already gathered there and other people were being brought in,” Mr Chow recalled.

The detainees were later transported to the prison on the same evening where they were met by prison officers and Tanzanian soldiers, who allegedly arrived in the country on the day of the coup. Mr Chow alleges that the Tanzanians were heavily armed and that their duty was to ensure nobody undermined the regime.

Mr Chow also remembered seeing a white man, Alfred Lefevre, a known mercenary who had taken part in a mercenary attack in the Comoros island one year earlier and who they recognised from the newspaper and who was being held at the prison. He recalls that between Thursday November 15 and Saturday November 17, 1979, at least 100 detainees arrived at the prison.

Mr Chow noted that he and Mr Hoareau remained in detention until around April or May 1980 and that he was not formally interrogated as to his involvement in the publication of the anti-government leaflet, when there were only around 13 detainees left, when it was decided that they would be moved to the then female prisoners block including Carlette Tall, the wife of Hassanali Umarji Ebrahim.

Speaking of their experience while being detained, Mr Chow noted that they were never tortured except for one instance when the son of Hasssanali Umarji Ebrahim was forced to drink a bottle of Tabasco at gun point.

Continuing on with his account, Mr Chow remarked that on July 29, 1980, Mr Hoareau was asked for questioning and an hour later, so was he. They were apparently interviewed by the then Minister for Defence Ogilvy Berlouis who advised them of their release provided they were prepared to leave the country on account that their lives are likely to be in danger.

Mr Chow recalls that he arrived in London three days later on August 1,1980 where he stayed with his wife’s cousin until they managed to sort out their affairs.

Mr Chow recalled that prior to his detention and exile, he was running a hugely successful company, the biggest bookshop on the island which had been started by President Mancham. He stated the turnover in 1979 at R3.5 million and that he was a 33 percent shareholder of the business. The company was selling at least 900 copies of the Newsweek magazine at the time on a weekly basis and proposed that he was targeted due to his connection with Mr Mancham at the time, for whom he was a confidante.

Mr Chow remembers his time in exile where he stated that he engaged in “a lot of anti-government activities” including the mercenary invasion of Seychelles, of which he and Mr Hoareau were both involved.

Mr Chow continued to explain how Seychelles was returned to a multi-party system and how Mr Rene issued a letter to former President Mancham inviting him back to Seychelles and Mr Chow arrived in the country a few days later and met with Mr Rene where they made the necessary security arrangements in preparation for Mr Mancham’s arrival.

Following Mr Chow’s account of events, the commission asked questions as to his role in the mercenary attacks of 1981 where he recounted that he and Mr Hoareau, were part of the planning process unbeknown to Mr Mancham who was adamant to keeping the peace.

Mr Frichot (a prominent Seychellois lawyer who was also detained at the time) had according to Mr Chow went to live in South Africa where he stayed with former classmates and discussed what can be done to remove the regime and suggested his neighbour, Mike Hoare, an infamous mercenary and when Mr Hoareau went to South Africa to join his parents who were living there, they planned the events that would ensue in 1981.

According to Mr Chow, Mike Hoare already had an assignment in Seychelles even prior to their detention and prior to them leaving Seychelles. The Seychellois living in exile in South Africa were able to raise US $200,000 which they paid to the mercenaries as a down-payment from a wealthy foreign investor in Seychelles.

Mr Chow further revealed that the South African government agreed to assist them with ammunition while the Kenyan government agreed to have 100 military personnel fly over to Seychelles if the mercenary attack was successful to target the Tanzanian military who were also present in the country and who was supporting the system.

“There were 10 of us in Nairobi waiting for us to come to Seychelles if the mercenary invasion was successful. We had chartered an airplane and the Kenyans would come after. We were depending on the mercenaries gaining control and then the Kenyans would come and ensure there was peace. The mercenaries took off from Swaziland on a normal flight and the aircraft made a refueling stop in the Comoros Island,” Mr Chow noted.

He stated that 17 Tanzanian military personnel were killed during the attacks. He remarked that when the mercenary attack failed, they were disappointed and returned home and left the matter and that he had no apology for his part since he had lost all his freedoms in Seychelles.

The commission proposed calling Mr Chow at a later hearing for his evidence pertaining to other cases such as the killing of his friend and colleague Gerard Hoareau.

 

-Case #005 The disappearance of Hassanali

The commission heard evidence in closed session during the afternoon before hearing evidence pertaining to the disappearance of local businessman Hassanali Umarji Ebrahim, better known as Hassanali and Ayub Suleman, a local businessman who was also detained and imprisoned at the time. Mr Suleman is also the cousin of Hassanali.

The complainant in the matter, Mr Suleman, reiterated the circumstances that led to the disappearance of Mr Ebrahim during an evening in August 1977. Mr Ebrahim’s car was found along a St Louis road with the radio still on and his slippers outside but he or his body are yet to be found to this day.

Mr Suleman recounted his interactions with President Rene and noted his earlier experiences including an explosion at one of their shops in town, where they used to sell petrol, stating that fortunately a person who used to clean President Rene’s office overheard that there was to be something at Adam Moosa’s shop and informed Hassanali’s father to remove the petrol from the usual storage space and to store it elsewhere. Mr Suleman suggested the year as 1972, although the Reef Hotel was opened in 1972, and it would seem the explosion happened in subsequent years. He was adamant however that the bombings occurred on the same day.

“Around 11.30pm I went to sleep and I remember exactly, around midnight, I heard a noise, like a bomb blast and I got up. I could smell the odour of ammunition and my worker, frazzled, came and told me about it,” Mr Suleman noted, adding that a passerby informed him that another bomb had also exploded at the Reef Hotel, Anse aux Pins around the same time. According to Mr Suleman’s account, a named Harry Bonte was arrested in connection with the bombing.

Also making mention of the student demonstrations against the NYS decision, Mr Suleman noted that his two daughters were also part of the demonstrations and he was later informed that he was wanted at State House since Mr Rene wanted to see him. At the State House, he met Alain St Ange and Mr Rene who pronounced a speech until Mr Rene instructed Phillip Lucas to take him home.

“When I got home, there were tears in the eyes of my father because he thought they would take me like Hassanali,” Mr Suleman stated.

On November 16, 1979, the day after Mr Chow, the previous witness, was arrested, Mr Suleman was also arrested, it would appear because he had copies of the anti-regime leaflet being circulated by Mr Chow and his associates. He presented the commission with a copy of his detention order and stated that 6 women and 75 men in total were detained at the time, guarded by 75 prison guards at the prison.

Mr Suleman fled to Mauritius in 1987 before deciding to return to Seychelles when the multi-party state was announced.

He referred to himself and Mr Ebrahim as the two politically active members of their family and stated that he is forgiving towards those responsible for such acts and that only the Lord is capable of judging those responsible.

The commission did not hear Mr Suleman’s account of events surrounding the disappearance of Mr Ebrahim and is due to appear before the commission in future to provide evidence pertaining to the matter.

The commission will resume today at 9am with witnesses in numerous cases. No closed sessions are scheduled for today.

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