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General News of Wednesday, 16 July 2003

Source: GNA

NRC Chairman cautions public gallery

Accra, July 15, GNA-Mr Justice Kweku Etrew Amua-Sekyi, Chairman of the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) on Tuesday warned people in the public gallery who laugh or make fun when some witnesses are narrating their ordeals.

Justice Amua-Sekyi said what happened to the witnesses could happen to anybody or kin, and asked whether it would be fair to laugh during witnesses' testimonies.

Justice Amua-Sekyi made the call when apparent noise of laughter emanated from the public gallery at point in narration of Mr Stephen Kwame Obeng, 76, of how his business at Hohoe was paralysed by a series of military actions in 1979.

Giggles began in the public gallery when Mr Obeng said before he would answer a question from a soldier at the Ho Barracks Guardroom, where he was detained, if he would not go to be shaved, the soldiers slapped him, booted him in the abdomen and followed it again with more slaps.

Mr Obeng, now 76, then owner of three shops named Abotare Ye Stores based at Hohoe said his stores dealt in electrical appliances, general goods, including clothing materials and plastic wares. He said a group of soldiers arrived in a military vehicle. Their leader enquired of his identity and then stationed two soldiers near the depot of his store and asked some others to take him home.

When they got to the house, they searched all his rooms but they found nothing and he was brought back to his store.

They seized some of the items in the store and told him that Government had ordered that they should come and sell the goods in his store.

He said despite the price tags on the displayed goods, they sold them at very reduced prices, and gave an instance in which a standing fan priced at 25 cedis was sold at seven cedis.

Mr Obeng said after that they marched him to the technical goods store and parked the wares in it into a standby truck and later to the general goods store where they sold the contents at their own preferred prices. After that they made him stand in front of the store and brought proprietors of other stores in the town. They included one Mr Danquah, and the owner of the Aquay Allah Store, who are now deceased. He said they were taken to the Ho Barracks Guardroom and locked up with female detainees.

He said they were put into batches, drilled and flogged, and he was also shaved. He said a nursing mother of a three months old baby was also brought in and beaten for selling fish at a price they considered too high.

He said when the soldiers brought him back the following day, one of his sons volunteered to be taken away instead of his father he was taken to the Ho barracks and detained for a week, and later additional four weeks during which he was drilled and beaten.

His son was also shaved, and on his release, had visible signs of beating.

The soldiers seized his vehicle, used it as a duty vehicle and later abandoned it on the Aflao-Denu Road.

Mr Obeng said three weeks later the soldiers came back and sold the remaining wares in the technical and general goods stores and went away with the proceeds.

Mr Obeng could not estimate the value of the wares in the stores, but said he lost his business.

He said he had then paid all his taxes, but the then Citizens Vetting Committee (CVC) charged him for defaulting in payment, and he was made to pay a fine of 1.6 million cedis, in addition to a fine of 80,000 cedis the Tax Office made him to pay.

He said he was indebted to a number of people and institutions, and yet the soldiers kept harassing him until the 1981 coup when they stopped. Mr Obeng said he trained as a goldsmith, and arrived in the Volta Region in 1949 and later took over the trading business from his late father and worked hard to develop it to the level it was before it was attacked by the soldiers.

He said the Barclays Bank seized some of his assets , and the Ghana Commercial Bank also seized a tractor from his sons who tried to revitalise the remains of his business, which they gave a different name because of his indebtedness.

He expressed sympathy for his cat that was in one of the stores for the three months that the store was locked. The cat, went without food for the period and survived on drops of water that entered the room.

Commissioners were unanimous in expressing sympathy to Mr Obeng.

When asked how the soldiers who attacked his store were faring, Mr Obeng said he could hardly remember them, but added that he had heard that most had either died or become mad, adding that, "God judges every situation" and those soldiers would pay for their deeds. Mr Obeng said he was ready to forgive any of the soldiers, and Commissioner Uborr Dalafu Labal expressed regret over the action of the soldiers and appealed to those who area alive to contact Mr Obeng to apologise to him.

Mr Mathias Komla Anku, of Togoho Mote, a taxi driver spoke of his arrest and detention for five months in the Ho Guardroom and later Ho Prisons for three months without charge.

Mr Henry Kofi Motey prayed the Commission for the restoration of the paramountcy of the Asogli Traditional Area to enable his late father, Torgbui Xorwusu Morttey II, who died in exile to be given a funeral befitting his status.

He said his father, then an activist of then United Party, was demoted from his paramountcy and given a lower status and declared Asafohene. However, the Agyeman Badu Committee that reviewed the case of the rightful ruler after the Justice Apaloo had declared his father as the rightful occupant to the paramounty case never came out with a report because of interventions from the Convention People's Party (CPP).

His father later went into exile to Togo and died there later. He also asked for the compensation of a family land government took for the development of an airstrip at Ho. The Commission asked him to produce the documents on the said land.