To many people in Freetown, Sam Hinga Norman is a war hero. Not so, says the UN Special Court. And so, Norman now faces eight counts of crimes against civilians.
The indictment by the Special Court of Sam Hinga Norman, the former co-ordinator of the Civil Defence Forces (the Kamajors) has sparked a popular debate and anger throughout the country, with many observers fearing that it may jeopardise the bard gained peace process.
Norman, who also doubled as the former defence deputy minister, has appeared in court twice outside Freetown under tight security before the Cameroonian judge, Benjamin Itoe. He has denied the eight-count charge of crimes against civilians between 1996 and 2000 which include unlawful killings, looting, burning of property and the recruitment of child soldiers.
For most Sierra Leoneans, Norman is a war hero and not a villain because he sacrificed his life for the people by fighting to restore democracy. Yet the moment he was arrested in Freetown by heavily armed police officers, he was handcuffed in full public view and pushed into a waiting vehicle.
The news of his arrest went around the country like wild fire. In Bo and Kenema, two strong Kamajor bases, the mood among the people was sombre. His arrest has sent a strong message to many Kamajor commanders that they could be the next.
Some people are asking whether President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and some of his top government officials may also face the Special Court because Norman took orders from Kabbah as deputy defence minister. Kabbah was president and defence minister at the same time, and there are speculations that Norman could not have done what he is now accused of, if Kabbah did not approve of it.
It is no secret that Kabbah supported the Kamajors with weapons, food, logistics and other incentives. Some people now blame the president for allowing the Kamajor excesses to happen.
A newspaper alleged that the president allowed Norman to be arrested because of his strong political base, and because he had fallen out of favour with Kabbah.
Members of the ruling SLPP living in Britain and America have launched a special fund to pay for a team of crack Sierra Leonean lawyers to defend Norman, who was indicted together with eight others, including the fugitive former coup leader and MP Johnny Paul Koroma, Sam Bockarie alias Mosquito, and Foday Sankoh, leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), now turned into a political parry.
Sankoh, 66, faces 17 counts of crimes against humanity...