FREETOWN, June 4 (Reuters) - Sierra Leone’s Human Rights Commission announced on Monday it had launched a probe into the police response to a strike by employees of iron ore miner African Minerals.
The action by armed police between April 16-18 in the town of Bumbuna in central Sierra Leone left one woman dead and at least six injured.
“The police are reported to have shot live bullets and teargas canisters indiscriminately sending the whole township into panic and pandemonium,” a notice from the body published in newspapers in the capital Freetown said.
“There were also reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions in which the police are reported to have broken into private homes, arrested the occupants and carted away their property.”
The Human Rights Commission inquiry is scheduled to last for four months and can make recommendations for prosecution.
The April rioting began with a protest over pay and conditions, with locals aggrieved by what they said were the higher wages received by expatriate staff. There have been no serious disturbances reported since then.
Bumbuna lies 15 km (10 miles) from African Minerals’ Tonkolili mine and is home to many workers. African Minerals made its first trial shipment of iron ore from Tonkolili in November last year.
The IMF estimates shipments from the mine will push GDP growth in Sierra Leone to 35.9 percent this year, one of the highest rates in the world.
African Minerals said by email it would not be appropriate for it to comment on the inquiry into the police actions. Sierra Leone police spokesman Ibrahim Samura said he trusted the inquiry would be “very, very impartial, very, very objective”.
Sierra Leone will hold a presidential election in November. The poll comes a decade after the end of the country’s bloody civil war and will be a crucial test of recovery.
In February leaked documents showed the police had purchased $4.5 million worth of weaponry, including heavy machine guns and grenade launchers, prompting the U.N. Security Council to warn the government against over-reacting to security threats.
In the end an agreement was struck for the heavy weapons to be transferred from the police to a unit of Sierra Leone’s army that is to deploy to Somalia as African Union peacekeepers.