More witnesses appear before TRNUC | 15 November 2019
The Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission (TRNUC) met yesterday for its 29th hearing session.
Ex-army officer Philip Lucas reappeared before the commission in the morning open session as a witness in case 0013 of Anthony Hunt regarding his involvement in rescuing Mr Hunt from a pro-government demonstration by putting him in a car and driving away with him, following the demonstration against the National Youth Service (NYS).
Mr Hunt, an Englishman, had claimed that he was dragged into the march organised by the state’s union by a group of men, including one he remembered as Jamaican (Ogilvy Letourdie) who put a rope around him saying that he had received orders from State House to arrest him amid the crowd waving sticks and chanting ‘let’s kill that white man’ while others said to ‘wait until the president sentences him to death’.
Mr Hunt had alleged that he was dragged among the crowd for at least 3km and upon reaching the Fiennes Institute he heard someone saying ‘where is he?’ and that person who was carrying an AK-47, untied him and kept the crowd back before a car driven by Mr Lucas came and he was helped to get into the back of the car amid the banging of the car by the crowd who wanted him killed.
Mr Hunt had also claimed that Mr Lucas sought instruction from the commissioner of police (James Pillay) on his walkie-talkie where he was instructed to bring him (Mr Hunt) to the Mont Fleuri police station which Mr Lucas did.
Mr Lucas said that on that day he was at State House to deliver a file to the Minister of Defence (Ogilvy Berlouis) and the minister was not in his office but rather in President Albert Rene’s office along with the commissioner of police (Mr Pillay).
He said it was President Rene who told him to go to Plaisance and to fetch a man who had been tied up and bring him to the Mont Fleuri police station. He said there was some commotion at the site of the march but he managed to take him away from the crowd and bring him to the police station.
Mr Lucas said he did not remember if there were army officers with guns at the protest march and he had no gun or communication equipment with him, thus he did not communicate with the commissioner of police. He noted that he did not know where the march had started but it was going towards Victoria via Mont Fleuri.
In the afternoon, Mr Lucas also had a closed session testimony with the commission in relation to the coup d’etat.
Another ex-army officer, Raymond Bonté, was before the commission to respond to suspect notifications sent to him and also to appear as witness to talk about his capacity as a commanding officer and a member of the defence forces’ committee from 1977 to 1986.
Mr Bonté said that if anyone has a case against him, he/she should bring him to court as he has done nothing wrong and furthermore he doesn’t want any forgiveness from anybody.
He had been given the opportunity by the commission to respond to the two suspect notifications in writing but he preferred to address the allegations in person.
Mr Bonté acknowledged that he was part of the coup and he has no regret for his participation. He noted that the commission was politically motivated but all the same happy that it will bring clarity on land issues where victims will be compensated.
He said most people who have come before the commission had spoken lies and accused people left, right and centre, thus affecting their dignity. He noted that as people who come before the commission cannot bring their cases to court, he called on the commission not to send any letters of request for him to appear before the commission again and insisted that people who have cases against him bring him to court.
Answering one of the allegations that he was involved in the kidnapping of Hassanali Umarji Ebrahim on August 13, 1977, along with a group of men in an army jeep, Mr Bonté said that it is a pity that Ogilvy Berlouis, one of the witnesses, is not around to prove that he was on La Digue on that day. He also said that he knew nothing of the kidnapping and also knew nothing as to what happened to Hassanali Umarji Ebrahim.
The second allegation against Mr Bonté in case 155 concerned Joe Rath who had alleged that he (Mr Bonté) along with another person tortured him on the following day of the army rebellion on October 17, 1982 where he was made to sit handcuffed on a chair with strings, like guitar strings, attached to a piece of wood placed around his neck and pulled from each side.
Mr Rath claimed that while on the chair with the strings being pulled around his neck, Mr Bonté hit him in his ribs with his army boots. Mr Rath had also claimed that President Rene, who was smoking a cigar, was also present in an office and witnessed his torture through the glass window. He claimed that each time President Rene would ash his cigar, he, Mr Bonté, pulled the string around his neck.
Mr Bonté replied that as a result of an explosion during the mercenary attack in 1981 he nearly had his leg amputated and had to be flown to England for further treatment which lasted three months amid further trips. He noted that upon his return he was not able to work for two years and that it was impossible for him to be at the place described by Mr Rath as he was still nursing his leg.
He said that this was a false and malicious accusation and he called on the commission to get Mr Rath to come in with the correct Bonté involved in the incident. He alleged that many people are being accused because of false information.
Recapping his involvement in the coup and his position in the army, Mr Bonté said that he was influenced to join the coup by Ogilvy Berlouis and after the coup he was promoted to the rank of captain and later to the rank of major until he left the force.
On the disappearance of Gilbert Morgan way before the coup, Mr Bonté said that he was present and shook hands with him but went on with his duty waiting for clients as he was a taxi driver at the Reef Hotel. He noted that he didn’t see Mr Morgan living the place or who left with him. He said that he learned of his disappearance like everybody.
Mr Bonté said that the killing of Davidson Chang Him, according to Philip D’Offay, was a mistake as he was not aware that the safety pin on the gun was in active mode. He further said that the military committee meetings headed by President Rene were purely military and not on other subjects like murders or disappearances. He further stated that he was not involved in any killings or disappearances of anybody.
He noted that many people took advantage of the situation in the country at that time to leave the country on their own and file for political asylum on the pretext that they were being persecuted when in fact they were not.
An emotional Mariette Naiken was the complainant in case 120 where she alleged that she and her husband were maliciously imprisoned at the Union Vale prison and were the victims of other forms of humiliation and victimisation, such as physical and verbal attacks during the one party state.
Mrs Naiken said that the imprisonment left both her husband and herself without a job and they had to struggle to raise their children. She claimed that it was when she was a teacher at the Good Shepherd school that she was arrested in 1979 and brought to the Central Police Station and was told it was for security reason.
She was transferred to the Union Vale prison where she spent 33 days before being released. She said that she learned that her release was at the intervention of the Amnesty International. She noted that the imprisonment had affected her dignity as a woman.
Mrs Naiken also claimed that her husband, Marc Naiken, who was a customs officer, was also arrested in 1981 and detained at the Central Police Station before he was transferred later to the Union Vale prison where he spent 52 days. It was claimed that he was involved with the mercenary attack.
She claimed that among other incidents she was once assaulted by a high ranking party activist, Rifned Jumeau of the SPUP at that time, followed by further aggression by the supporters. She said that she and her family were targeted because they did not support the regime.
She also said that a property a Bel Air, which the family was expected to buy from its owner who was living abroad, was maliciously acquired to prevent them from buying while other properties belonging to the family were compulsorily acquired.
She noted that it was only after the country returned to a multi-democracy system in 1993 and following talks with former President James Mancham that some smaller portions of land were returned to the family while other plots are still in the hands of government and they have not been compensated.
Mrs Naiken is expected back in January 2020 for the continuation in her case.
Jemy Belle was the complainant in case 0154 and he gave an account of his work as police officer from the special mobile unit after the June 5, 1977 coup d’etat where he was treated along with other police officers as inferiors and used as human shields.
He also gave an account of the incident which occurred at Sans Souci which was told to him by the only survivor.
He recalled on the next day of the coup upon arriving at the Central Police Station at around 7.30pm after being called to report to duty on the radio, he witnessed Philip D’Offay holding a gun and Dr Maxime Ferrari with two pistols around his waist.
He noted that from testimonies from other police officers who were there that day, it was Philip Lucas who shot Berard Jeannie on the forehead after not receiving the keys to the armory which Jeannie had claimed he didn’t have.
Mr Belle stated that at that time police officers were used as human shields for the organisers of the coup as they were not given any weapons to work with to guard President Rene’s house at Sans Souci and other places. He noted that at one time they were given guns to work with but with no bullets which suggested they were only human shields
For him, the way they were told to work after the coup up to the 1980s was like modern slavery and he was forced to leave in 1987 for a job as security officer at the New Port following a spell from the police, especially under police commissioner André Kilindo.
He noted that he deserves a compensation for the conditions and the type of work that was forced on him by the police. He further said that he was also terminated from his job in July 17, 1988 on grounds related to security reasons.
Mr Belle said that he was summoned to State House to see Dobin Samson who forced him to re-write a letter asking President Rene to pardon him. As he had no choice, he re-wrote and signed the letter and was given back his job as a security officer at the port until today.
He alleged that he was among the police officers who guarded Brian Victor who was involved in an incident at Sans Souci where two of his other colleagues were killed. He said he told Victor that it was announced on the radio that three men were going to put a fire at the NYS and their car fell down the ravine.
Mr Belle said that Victor told him that he had met state security officer Jemmy Marengo in Victoria and had asked him for his help and to drop him at Sans Souci which he agreed. He said that as he was with his friends Sonny Elizabeth and Michael Hoffman, he invited them along to accompany him. Upon arriving at Sans Soucis he was asked to drive a bit further and later after stopping at the desired spot they were ambushed by a group of soldiers. He noted that he had to feign he was dead or else he too would have been killed.
He said that Mr Victor claimed he was put in the front seat of the car while his two friends were put in the back seat and they were driven towards Morne Blanc and pushed down the ravine. He said Victor said that he sought help from a house and later saw himself in hospital when he woke up.
He said Mr Victor told him that that he had learned that Hoffman was the target but as the two persons were with him, they had to be eliminated also. Mr Belle also said that he once had a commotion with that same security officer who had threatened to beat him up with an electric wire but made an excuse that he was thought to be somebody else.
Mr Belle said that though the police were also involved in beating up people, he alleged that a lot of people also were beaten by other people on the pretext of being from the police.
He claimed that his children were also victimised and were not given employment in government, while his sister, Madge Belle, a journalist with the Radio Television Seychelles (RTS), along with two other journalists, were sacked by James Michel in 1989 and had to leave the country for refusing to conduct a political programme.
Mr Belle said that those who supported the regime were opportunists and they were well rewarded. The investigation is ongoing.
The commission’s vice-chair Michael Green launched an appeal to anyone who knows anything in relation to the death of Simon Desnousse to come forward so that the case can be put to closure. He noted that a lot of people whose names have been mentioned will be called in to testify and he urged them to come forward when called in.
With his involvement in the June 5coup d’etat of 1977, Philip Lucas was asked by the commission to identify a voice recording of President Albert Rene in a meeting he held on the eve of the coup. In the voice recording Mr Rene was giving instruction on how the coup was supposed to take place which had been in preparation for almost two years.
Mr Lucas, who was the driver of President Rene, said that he was there but did not listen to the whole speech and went outside to check on a car that had arrived and he stayed outside until the meeting was over.
Mr Rene had claimed on the radio on June 5, 1997 that a group of people who had been involved in the coup had approached him to be their leader and Mr Lucas said he presumed that maybe Mr Rene did not want to implicate himself.
He said that once Mr Rene told him that James Mancham wanted him (Mr Rene) to stay as Prime Minister for life while he (Mr Mancham) would stay as President for life and Mr Rene was not happy with the decision. He noted that he last drove Mr Rene on the eve of the coup.
Mr Lucas stated that he had heard that some coup leaders went on military training in Tanzania but he was not part of it. He claimed that contrary to what President James Michel had testified that there were only two guns, there were at least 12 guns on the day of the coup.
The commission wanted to know why as a leader President Rene did not participate in the attack, Mr Lucas replied that President Rene was clever and did not want to implicate himself in the coup had it been a failure.
Mr Lucas further said that he was given a small pension after he left the army and this was discontinued after a while. He said that generally he was not well compensated compared to others who did. He said that he has no recollection of brutalising people and noted that people have to come forward with facts and prove him wrong. He said that his house has also been acquired and he will fight the government not through the commission but by himself.
The last person to testify yesterday was ex-army officer, ex-bodyguard of President Rene and chief of intelligence at the time, Rolly Marie, on his role in the coup.
Mr Marie, who was a police officer at that time, said that he met President Rene before the coup and he was unhappy with the way the country was being manned especially when Mr Rene said he had been told that he would stay as Prime Minister for life and spoke also about his intentions.
He said on the day of the coup, he carried no gun except for a walkie-talkie. He further said that he was not in charge of communication but only relayed some information to Mr Rene. He noted that he was only armed when taking over the Seychelles Radio Station.
Mr Marie said that he helped in recruiting men to form the army until he was evicted from the army in 1986, along with other senior army officers. He said that after that he just tried to keep himself safe.
He said that the state security came into being after the mercenary and army rebellion to counter the threats. He noted that when Hassanali Umarji Ebrahim disappeared he was not in charge of the state security.
Mr Marie said that even though he took part in the coup, the preparation of the coup was a great secret. He said that he had had some sentiment of having been used after he was told to leave the army. He further said that he got a pension but this was discontinued.