Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission First part of hearing ends, to resume October 7 | 21 September 2019
The Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission (TRNUC) yesterday wrapped up its first part of hearing with six witnesses.
Frank Kilindo, one of the leaders of the 1982 army mutiny, states his case
Speaking to the TRNUC, Frank Kilindo yesterday explained the circumstances that led to the 1982 army mutiny in which he was directly involved and detailed the reasons for bringing his complaints forward.
Mr Kilindo, a former soldier, was court-martialed and sentenced for eight years for having been one of the heads of the mutiny.
He had previously recounted the military rebellion and his role in such in the Seychelles NATION’s June 4, 2019 edition.
“We did our first 17 months at Union Vale [prison] then we continued our sentence at the Ile Longue prison. We spent 17 months locked in a cell 24/7 at Union Vale then at Ile Longue we spent around two years locked up in a similar manner. They let us out rarely for some exercise for around 15 minutes but we were still handcuffed; we lived like this for almost four years,” Mr Kilindo claimed.
Stating this as his first complaint, Mr Kilindo said that he basically lived in solitary confinement throughout his sentence and that the mutiny would never have happened if the military leaders had not taken advantage and mistreated the lower ranks.
“All of this has held up my life,” Mr Kilindo highlighted.
Before making these claims, Mr Kilindo had explained that the mutiny was the direct result of the frustrations of low-ranking soldiers in regards to the higher ranks in the army who used them for menial tasks.
“They made us believe that we were defending the country but we were only helping them get rich. Before the coup, many of them did not have the riches and properties they have today and they used us, the soldiers, to establish themselves and build their riches and we were not okay with that.”
Mr Kilindo claimed that most, if not all, of these commanding officers have taken part in the coup and had received their ranks based on their roles in the coup rather than out of merit.
“They were not necessarily good soldiers or good leaders, it’s just that they had been rewarded for participating in the Coup d’Etat.”
According to him, President France Albert Rene was the commander in chief, Ogilvy Berlouis was minister for defence and James Michel was the chief of staff at that time.
Soldiers who expressed their discontent, such as Mr Kilindo, faced punishments such as salary cuts and were not allowed to go out normally like most soldiers, and instead were provided with passes whereby they would leave army camps at 4pm and would have to come back at 11pm.
These passes were also revoked depending on the behaviour of the soldiers.
“This went on for a while and there was no higher authority to whom we could address this issue. So some of us decided to rebel in 1982,” he noted.
The rebellion brewed within the army barracks to a point where a plan was formed: rogue soldiers would take up guns and arrest top military and government officials.
The mutiny, Mr Kilindo continued, was not meant to be a violent uprising but nonetheless it failed.
“The directive given to these soldiers was to ensure that guns were not fired […] in fact we just wanted to conduct an overnight coup where nobody will get injured.”
He explained that although the army rebels had a hold of the radio station and the Central Police Station they were confused and disorganised, which led to their arrests.
Mr Kilindo also described himself as a good and brave soldier unlike some of the “cowards” who forcefully took over a peaceful country that had no weapons and no military in 1977.
His second complaint was in relations to his mistreatment and illegal detention at the Grand Police High Security Prison where he suffered various kinds of torture.
This came later after his release for the mutiny and came as a result of his distribution of opposition propaganda leaflets.
He alleged that he was hanged upside down with hands tied behind his back and then thrown into a dark jail cell.
Given this mistreatment, the fact that he was not allowed to see his family or lawyer and not being told of what he was being charged with, Mr Kilindo went on a hunger strike.
“I was surprised one morning when I was taken to the gate where I saw Monseigneur Felix Paul and Bishop [French] Chang-Him. They knew that I was on a hunger strike and advised me that I would die if I continued. They further made it known that they were negotiating for my release.”
He was released the next day.
As his third complaint, Mr Kilindo stated that the government continued to victimise him and even went as far as allegedly planting drugs in his taxi and later taking away his taxi license, thus putting him and his family back a couple of years.
When his license had been taken, Mr Kilindo had just bought a new car for the purpose of his business through a loan of R140,000 from the Development Bank of Seychelles (DBS) and his daughters were still at primary school.
He was forced by DBS to quickly sell off his new vehicle at R90,000 and he received his taxi license only recently thanks to the anti-victimisation committee of the National Assembly.
For all of these setbacks, Mr Kilindo affirmed that he should be compensated by the perpetrators.
Former police officer Percy Dingwall states that witness Solano Savy lied
The second witness to appear before the TRNUC yesterday was Percy Dingwall who came in to clear his name.
Mr Dingwall, former brother-in-law of James Michel, explained that Solano Savy, who gave a statement on September 10, lied when stating that Mr Dingwall had been involved in any unsavoury behaviour during the 1977 coup.
In his evidence, Solano Savy had named Mr Dingwall as being present at the Police Mobile Unit at the armoury on the night of the Coup d’Etat but was conveniently absent when Berard Jeannie was killed and the armoury taken over during the coup.
Berard Jeannie was one of three fatal victims of the coup.
It was insinuated that Mr Dingwall had tried to lure the guards out with the excuse of getting some mangoes.
“Solano lied,” Mr Dingwall said plain and simple.
“First of all, he was not there. He first said he was off and then turns around and said that he was present.”
“On that night, I was the driver. When I was done bringing the driver home, I told Berard [Jeannie] that I was going to get some mangoes a little bit further in Mont Fleuri. He asked me if I did not want some ladob patat but refused and went off,” he stated.
He stated that there were three police officers on guard that night; himself, Berard Jeannie and Michel Roucou.
“They both stayed and I went by myself,” he emphasised.
While getting the mangoes, Mr Dingwall said that he did not return to the barrack but opted to stay at the Mont Fleuri police station and only went back to the armoury at around 5 in the morning.
According to Mr Dingwall, he saw Ogilvy de Letourdie as he reached the armoury and who told Mr Dingwall to accompany him to Bel Eau to fetch a certain Mr Stone.
He arrested Mr Stone as well as another man, a Mr Fontaine who lived at St Louis.
“I did not do anything else after that,” Mr Dingwall concluded.
Regis Payet, former military officer, confirms existence of ‘4x4 cell’
During yesterday’s TRNUC session, former military officer Regis Payet confirmed that the military made use of tiny jail cells as punishment for soldiers.
The commission was first made aware of such a structure by another former military officer, Anglain Labiche, wherein he stated having been imprisoned in a 4x4 feet jail structure at the army camp, L’Exile.
The allegation was refuted by his superior at the time Lieutenant Georges Camille who made an appearance before the commission on September 16.
Mr Labiche identified Mr Payet as the person who could corroborate his story since the latter was also imprisoned in a similar structure at some point.
“Yes, there was that thing [the structure] as I assume most military have,” Mr Payet highlighted.
He was put in the cell, without any charges, because he had left the military camp on a pass but had not gotten back to the camp on time. He also faced various problems in the military due to alcohol consumption.
“I was jailed in there because I did come up with a pass. President Rene was leaving the country so they took the opportunity to imprison me […] they released me when Mr Rene came back.”
Mr Payet remarked that the jail cell he was put in was small but he could stand up in it properly, although he had to sleep on the floor since there was no bed.
Next to his small jail cell was an even smaller one (the alleged 4x4 feet structure) and a larger one.
Indicating the size of the smallest cell with his hands, Mr Payet noted that it was impossible for someone to lie down to sleep in that cell.
The cell not only disallowed lying down to sleep but it was also quite small for an average-sized person to stand up straight.
Mr Payet had been given orders to imprison people in the small cells at various occasions.
He nonetheless kept stressing the difference between military and civilian crimes, with the military marching to its own beat.
Robert Ernesta becomes the first perpetrator to apologise for his actions
Robert Ernesta voluntarily appeared before the commission yesterday to shed light on what occurred at Grand Police in and around 1998 which would be of great public interest.
He joined the army in 1978, was later involved in the setting up of the Seychelles Defence Academy and in 1994 was posted as the chief of operations and training at the defence forces headquarters.
He retired from the SPDF in 2007.
But it was the Grand Police incidents of 1998 that would most strike him during his career but before he could start recounting what happened, he had to contextualize the event.
“I was not in the country in 1991 when the Malo was intercepted and possessed by the government of Seychelles. The Malo was a vessel that was carrying a cargo of arms and ammunition, and it was intercepted by local authorities and possessed by the government.”
“From evidence gathered, some people had bought weapons off the Malo even before the weapons were being transferred from the vessel to the various armouries around the island.”
Some of it made its way to Rwanda “but the harm that was done to Seychelles was another thing”.
“I was aware before the events of Grand Police, government was aware that there were a lot of arms scattered around the country in the hands of criminal. I was aware that they had taken action to buy the arms back through agents,” Mr Ernesta noted.
Some of these weapons, he noted, were being used by people who were planting cannabis uphills and who had formed their own small armies.
“As the chief of operations at the time, I brought it to the attention of the chief of staff and told him I was worried about the number of small arms that were in the hands of civilians and the constant show of these on TV because the police would go uphill and make some arrests and film everything and on most occasions there were arms available.”
The Chief of staff, Brigadier Leopold Payet, said they knew of the problem and were dealing with it accordingly.
However the day which turned the tides and forced the SPDF to become more proactive in getting these illegal weapons scattered in the country was the shooting of two SPDF commandos.
“One day at around 7.30 in the morning, I was preparing myself to go to work and I got a call from my sister. She was a resident nurse at the Beolière clinic, she was excited, hyped up – afraid if I may say. And she told me she had a soldier in her care who had been shot and that one other soldier, she has been told, had been killed.”
After debriefing the wounded soldier who was brought to the Victoria Hospital, Mr Ernesta came up with a battle plan to apprehend the perpetrators who had shot the soldiers.
After receiving clearance from the Defence Forces Council, Mr Ernesta and his 100 plus men went up terrains uphill and then decided to rest at Grand Police during nightfall.
“While I was sweeping uphill, there were activities being undertaken by the police and the security services. They had started to arrest suspects that were linked to the shooting and, unknowingly to me, decision had already been taken to re-open the Grand Police prison.”
At around 6.30pm the chief of staff informed him that he would stay at Grand Police and that operation would be undertaken from there and further informed him that a detachment of police was to assist them.
Mr Ernesta explained that the first two suspects, civilians, were brought in and were being beaten in front of the chief of staff.
“And he said nothing, I said nothing but after the chief of staff left I ordered for them to be put in two cells. The cells had not been cleaned yet.”
But after leaving Grand Police for a while, Mr Ernesta claimed to have seen the suspects being flogged and noted that they were so badly out of shape 40 to 50% of their skins had been peeled off.
A medical officer was brought in and recommended that the suspects be brought to the hospital for full time medical attention even if their injuries were not life threatening.
“And I told him the doctor, ‘if you need to turn this cell into a clinic then do it but those two people are not moving out of here’ because for obvious reasons it would have been shameful.”
When asked why he chose to remain silent, Mr Ernesta replied: “It was a difficult situation. Firstly the chief of staff had issued instructions to do whatever was necessary to recover the weapons and find the perpetrators, the people who ambushed the two commandos because they were his bodyguards. I believe that is why he took special interest in that.”
Moreover his senior officer was giving the orders and he could not do much to override these orders, Mr Ernesta obliged.
All these combined with soldiers who were not very happy with the way their colleagues had been treated and were out for blood, led to this brutal happening.
“It was a very dicey situation,” Mr Ernesta stated.
This operation went on for two weeks and saw 20 victims.
“Upon leaving the force I thought about my life in the army and decided that I should apologize for having taken part in the events of Grand Police.”
He also handed over an apology he had penned and published on the front page of the Seychelles Weekly in 2014.
“You are an example for others. You are the first person to have taken responsibility before this commission for anything so I believe that it is very dignified and courageous of you to do so. It’s in your benefit too and also for the benefit of the country,” chairperson of the TRNUC, Gabrielle McIntyre, said.
Mr Ernesta urged others to also come forward to solidify certain rumours or dispel them.
The hearing yesterday also saw testimonies from Alain Ernesta, a musician that was heavily victimized, and Willy Confait.
TRNUC sessions will pick up again on October 7.