TRNUC hearings resume following a nine-week break amid COVID-19 | 26 May 2020
The Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission (TRNUC) resumed its hearing sessions yesterday following closure in Mid-March 2020 due to restriction of movement amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
This time around the commission will sit for three consecutive weeks instead of the usual two weeks to make up for lost time during the lockdown.
However, only three witnesses out of five were able to make it to the hearing seesions yesterday.
Prior to its opening, the commission has had to re-arrange its facilities at Ile Perseverance in line with public health regulations with regard to social distancing.
With the inclusion of its seventh commissioner, Eline Moses, the commission is expected to hear 48 cases in closed and open sessions, including via Skype. Until the middle of March 2020, the commission had heard 138 cases and over 200 witnesses.
After reading out a statement on the role and function of the commission in determining the truth of human rights violations during the one party state, the chairperson, Gabrielle Louise McIntyre, once again called on those accused or held responsible for violation of human rights in the country during that period, to honestly come forward to repent their actions so that they can be granted amnesty thus avoiding prosecution among other forms of punishment.
The chairperson’s statement was followed by a reflection letter written by Barney Elizabeth and read by commissioner Archbishop James Wong.
Former high ranking army officer, Rolly Marie, was the first before the commission as a witness in Case 0104: Bernard Racombo. The former police officer had claimed he was unlawfully sacked from his job for refusing to follow political education lesson forced upon him and others by the one party state. As a result he was detained at the president’s order for eight months on Long Island. He also claimed that while in detention, he was also intimidated to either work for government or else he will continue to stay in prison or be expelled from the country. He chose to take political asylum in Britain upon refusing to take a job offer by State House.
Mr Marie, a former army major, claimed that he was only obeying orders from the Minister of Defence, to get into contact with certain people with certain potentials and who were imprisoned during the one party state, to see if they will be willing to side with the government in power. He claimed that doing his job as a collector of evidence, he was not involved in decisions as to what happened to Mr Racombo after he introduced him to his superior.
He said that political education in the army was probably an ideology introduced and copied from the Tanzanian army.
“Even though I worked for the president and he was supposed to have signed them, I have never seen a detention order,” he said, noting that he did not recall also of ever having seen a report for the arrest of Mr Racombo.
On his involvement in the coup, Mr Marie said the reason he joined in with former President Albert Rene was to help eliminate the social injustice in the country at that time. He said at that time there was no revolutionary ideology and the one party ideology came two years after.
Mr Marie stated that though he was in charge of security at State House, he was not involved in any disappearance and he himself found it strange that people were disappearing in the country.
Case Franco Piovani
Amede Esparon was the next witness in relation to the case of Franco Piovani who was found dead on Carana beach on January 4, 1981. According to chairperson McIntyre, the commission had received evidence alleging that Mr Piovani was involved in planning a coup to oust the Albert Rene regime in power. For that, Mrs Mclntyre stated, he was also collecting a lot of money to plan that coup and he was alleged to have been killed for that money. The commission is of the view that Mr Esparon might have seen Mr Piovani with the collected cash.
In giving his evidence, Mr Esparon, who claimed to have known Mr Piovani, who was a chef at the Barbarons Hotel while he was a hotel supplier, said that when he heard the first evidence about the case, no mention of money came out. He said that once on a Saturday afternoon, coming from Anse Boileau, he came across Mr Piovani who stopped by him in a car.
He claimed that, as a friend, he got into the passenger seat and while talking, Mr Piovani, who had returned from a trip abroad, had informed him that he was going to invest in his own business through buying a yogurt company at Le Rocher.
Mr Esparon noted that at that time while it was difficult for an individual to do business, apart from government, he claimed that his friend had told him that he knew people in high places. Upon asking about capital, he said Mr Piovani produced a stainless steel briefcase packed with US dollars. He claimed that he cautioned him against walking around with so much money and wished him good luck with his business idea.
“The following day I learned he was found dead on the beach at Carana,” he said, noting he also learned that there were some high people in government at that time who were in close contact with Mr Piovani.
Mr Esparon stated that while talking to Mr Piovani, he never once mentioned the word coup d’etat for him to have known that he (Mr Esparon) was not on the side of government.
“I was shocked when I heard in the hearing that he was planning a coup and nobody mentioned about the money. He was only talking to me about doing his business. This is why I came forward to give this part of evidence. I think he was killed because of the money,” he added.
When asked as to why he didn’t contact the police for evidence, he noted that in the context of the situation in the country at that time, his life would have been in danger.
“You cannot put your head in the lion’s den. I believe somebody stole from him. He was killed because of his money and not about planning a coup,” he said without accusing anybody.
Mr Esparon claimed that as he was not for the government, he left in 1990 for exile in France and returned to Seychelles in 2006 and joined the fishing business since.
Case 0180: Cyril Lau-Tee
The last witness to appear before the commission yesterday was another former high ranking army officer, Major William Cesar, in relation to Case 0180: Cyril Lau-Tee who had claimed in his complaint that he (Mr Cesar) on one occasion came in a military car with number plate S1020 and picked up his adopted brother, Emile Rosette, and drove off with him. Upon being questioned upon his return, Mr Lau-Tee had claimed that he was in the company of Mr Cesar, Dobin Samson and Wallen Adeline and the three had asked him to place a grenade in his car to kill him.
In response to the claim, Mr Cesar stated that to him it was apparent that the incident never happened and he was not even aware there was a plan to assassinate Mr Lau-Tee. He explained that the type of grenade (stick hand grenade from Russia) being used in the army at that time would have killed the person placing it in the car instead of his victim.
Mr Cesar, who also claimed he was the sole driver of the car, said he knew Mr Rosette very well from Anse Royale and he could have given him a lift in the military vehicle but not to show him how to use a grenade to commit crime.
He claimed that he was not aware of Mr Lau-Tee’s anti-government activities and if the authority at that time had known of his activities, he would, maybe, have been history. He also stated that he was not aware of any plot to kill Mr Lau-Tee.
He further said he had no idea on the motive of Mr Rosette to implicate him in organising to assassinate Mr Lau-Tee which he presumed might have been a result of him, Mr Rosette, being beaten to make such a confession.
On the questions of disappearances of persons which the army is allegedly being held responsible, Mr Cesar said that he only heard stories like other people on those disappearances. He claimed he was not aware as to who was or were responsible for those disappearances or if the army was involved as it is being claimed. He further claimed that he only heard of allegations of atrocities against the army from word of mouth and from the commission’s hearings.
He retired in the army in 2004 further to civilian engagement later as a garment store officer.
Case 0238: Andrew Pouponeau
Following the absence of a first witness, the second witness in Case 0238: Andrew Pouponeau, the soldier who went missing on August 18, 1982 after the army rebellion the day before, also did not appear as it was a case of mistaken identity.