March 23, 2015 / 10:49 PM / 3 years ago

Sierra Leone army confines troops to barracks amid political crisis

FREETOWN (Reuters) - Sierra Leone’s army chief on Monday ordered soldiers to remain in their barracks and warned them to steer clear of a political crisis that has erupted following the controversial dismissal of the West African nation’s vice-president.

President Ernest Bai Koroma sacked his deputy, Samuel Sam-Sumana, last week, saying he had abandoned his duties by requesting asylum at the U.S. Embassy in the capital Freetown.

The ruling All People’s Congress had accused the vice-president of creating his own political movement and kicked him out of the party.

“Politics is not for a soldier,” Major General Samuel Omar Williams told more than 2,000 troops gathered at a military barracks in Freetown.

Sam-Sumana’s sacking has sparked political tensions in one of the West African countries hardest-hit by the worst outbreak of the Ebola virus on record.

The main opposition party, the Sierra Leone People’s Party, said on Sunday that it would embark on a nationwide campaign of peaceful demonstrations, civil disobedience and strikes from March 30 if Sam-Sumana is not reinstated.

The firing of the vice-president is expected to be challenged in the courts. President Koroma has appointed Victor Foh as his new deputy, but the opposition has said he is not eligible to hold the position.

Sierra Leone has been plagued by political instability, including a series of military coups and a 1991-2002 civil war, for much of its history since gaining independence from Britain in 1961.

Williams said that any military personnel found to be intervening in the country’s latest political crisis would be punished.

“No soldier has got this right to discuss politics or partake in it. Our focus should be on the fight against Ebola, and let us leave politics for the politicians,” he said.

The confinement of soldiers to barracks will not apply to troops involved in efforts to battle the country’s Ebola epidemic or other specific military tasks, a statement from the army said.

Williams said visits by civilian personnel to military installations would also be restricted and political discussions within barracks would be banned.

Reporting by Umaru Fofana; Writing by Joe Bavier; editing by Matthew Lewis

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