Ex-military ruler returns home

Former Sierra Leonean military ruler Valentine Strasser returned home on Sunday four years after he was overthrown in a palace coup, according to news reports. Strasser arrived in Freetown from Banjul following an unsuccessful bid to remain in The Gambia.

It was unclear whether he had been expelled and Gambian officials could not be reached for comment.

Strasser had been arrested in The Gambia when found wondering around a restricted area, his mother, Beatrice Strasser, told IRIN. Sierra Leone Web reported on Monday that Strasser was detained by an army patrol in the town of Talinding - near Banjul - and turned over to the National Intelligence Agency “after it was alleged he had been found in possession of military information”.

However, Strasser’s mother said he lost his way after going for a walk and was picked up and taken to his hotel. It was when security officials searched his room and found “some jottings”, she said, that they tried to expel him to Sierra Leone.

Strasser had gone to The Gambia from Britain where he had been in exile. The Gambian government sent him back but Britain refused him entry. His mother said he dropped out of law school after his funds ran out. He then suffered from emotional stress this year because of problems he had with supporters of the defunct All People’s Congress (APC) in Britain.
“Val was stabbed in the left leg by APC supporters while in Britain,” Beatrice Strasser told IRIN. “Val was taunted by the APC, who accused him of stealing state funds.”

His mother and his close friend, Basiru Kebe, said Strasser was penniless and could afford neither food nor medical care for a bullet wound sustained while fighting the Revolutionary United Front. The wound has caused a swelling in his left leg. “He walks with a bad limp,” his mother said.

He was also unable to afford a lawyer to obtain permission to stay in The Gambia.

Strasser, who at 26 became the world’s youngest head of state in 1992, had overthrown President Joseph Momoh, head of the APC. His mother said family friends and she herself wanted him to stay in The Gambia for another three months until he regained his emotional strength before returning home.

They also wanted to avoid suspicions about why he was returning to Sierra Leone at this time. “We want(ed) him to stay in Gambia until after the elections are over lest people there (in Sierra Leone) accuse him of trying to mount a coup,” Beatrice Strasser said.