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As Attacks Loom, Sierra Leone Junta Seeks Negotiations

The ruling junta’s defense chief peered through binoculars at a Nigerian ship sitting off the coast, presumably with more troops ready to fight the soldiers who seized power two weeks ago.

“We are not strong enough to face them,” Brig. Samuel Koroma, the brother of coup leader Maj. Johnny Paul Koroma told The Associated Press on Saturday, in what appeared to be the latest sign the junta was weakening.

Since ousting the civilian government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah on May 25, the Koroma brothers and their ruling Armed Forces Revolutionary Council have yet to bring stability to the capital.

In addition to being preoccupied with the possibility of an attack by Nigerian soldiers backing Kabbah, they have been isolated internationally and unable to stop marauding troops from looting and harassing civilians.

Fear of such soldiers - many of them former rebel fighters who poured in from the bush after the coup - has kept civilians home from work, further hampering Koroma’s attempts to restore a sense of normalcy to Freetown.

State-run radio on Saturday ordered soldiers without specific deployment instructions to get off the streets, Johnny Koroma’s latest attempt to appear in control. It reported Friday that people who did not return to work by Monday would be fired.

Troops forced Nigerian soldiers to retreat Monday, after an attack left 50 people dead. But Nigeria says it has bolstered its troops since then, and the defense chief said he hasn’t the capacity to fight them.

He repeated a plea for negotiations. “We want the international community to come and meet us. All our approaches to them have been blocked,” he said.

Such statements sharply contrast with the tough talk early in the coup, when Johnny Koroma’s resistance to negotiations sparked Nigeria’s bombardment.

Tags: unrest