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Thursday, 31 August, 2000, 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK
Who are the West Side Boys?
West Side Boys
The West Side Boys: Not hesitant about opening fire
In a country where large areas are controlled by militias, Sierra Leone's West Side Boys are a maverick group - but no less dangerous for that.

They are not connected to the main rebel group in Sierra Leone, the Revolutionary United Front.

They are known for wearing bizarre clothing - women's wigs and flip-flops are favourites - and being almost perpetually drunk.

Yet the West Side Boys reputedly do not hesitate to use their guns when they set up road-blocks in the area around Masiaka, where they are strongest.

Some observers believe that the term "rebel" is too good for a group which is more like a gang of bandits than a politically-motivated fighting force.

Bribes

Those who have encountered the group says that it is usually possible to pay them off with alcohol or other gifts - though they are most likely to use their weapons in the evenings, when they are most inebriated.

The West Side Boys are believed to include former members of the Sierra Leone Army, former members of the RUF, and ordinary civilians who were recruited by the gang.

Several of them are criminals from Pademba Road Prison - possibly those released during the 1997 coup.

Previously, the West Side Boys have professed loyalty to Johnny-Paul Koroma - the former army leader whose Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) ousted President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, and ruled Sierra Leone for two years before joining forces with the RUF when democracy was restored.

'Colonel Cambodia'

But a recent satellite telephone interview with the BBC - by a man calling himself "Colonel Cambodia" and claiming to be a West Side Boys spokesman - suggested that the group had fallen out with "JP" [Koroma], who now once again professes support for President Kabbah.

"Colonel Cambodia" said his group had participated in the 1997 coup: "We took over the government from Kabbah".

He said his group had been excluded from the 1999 Lome peace accord, which was signed by Mr Kabbah and RUF leader Foday Sankoh.

For this reason, "Colonel Cambodia" said, the Lome accord must be "revisited", and he was holding the soldiers hostage as a means of securing negotiations with the government.

After the seizing of the soldiers, Sierra Leonean journalist Winston Ojokutu Macauley said he blamed Western powers and the Sierra Leone Government, as they were "dragging their feet" in resolving the situation in the country.

He says that only a few months ago, the West Side Boys showed no signs of following any sort of political agenda at all.

'Bomb Blast'

Earlier, the West Side Boys reportedly demanded the release of a man known as as Brigadier Bomb Blast or Brigadier Papa - who has also been named as the group's leader.

No one seems to know his real name.

In May, "Bomb Blast" was among those arrested after a shooting incident, but was later released, after it appeared that he had been falsely accused.

In early June he got into a firefight with an AFRC commander known as Brigadier 55, during which a UN soldier is reported to have been injured.

The fight is believed to have started over a four-wheel-drive vehicle belonging to RUF leader Foday Sankoh, which the West Side Boys stole about the time that Mr Sankoh temporarily went into hiding in May.

Sierra Leone in crisis

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26 Aug 00 | African Debates
04 Jun 00 | Africa
19 May 00 | Africa
12 May 00 | Africa
28 Aug 00 | UK Politics
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