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General News of Friday, 28 December 2001

Source: Reuters

Ghana reburies past in quest for reconciliation

ACCRA, Ghana (Reuters) -- Remains of three Ghanaian military heads of state were returned to their families on Thursday, 22 years after the generals were executed in one of the West African country's bloodiest episodes since independence.

The ceremony in the capital Accra, attended by more than 2,000 people wearing black and red mourning clothes, was part of efforts by President John Kufuor to draw a line under a dark chapter in the former British colony's history.

The skeletal remains of the three leaders, lying in caskets draped in the national flag, were presented to their families at a military chapel. The bodies of five other military officials, executed at the same time, were also handed over.

The men were charged with corruption and shot at a beachside firing range in June 1979, after a coup led by former President Jerry Rawlings, then a 32-year-old air force pilot.

They were then buried without ceremony at Nsawam Prison, near Accra. Family members were kept away. The bodies were exhumed in August this year after a campaign by the men's widows and as part of Kufuor's national reconciliation campaign.

The three heads of state were Akwasi Afrifa who ruled for two years from 1967, Kutu Acheampong who was in power from 1972 to 1978 and Fred Akuffo, ousted by Rawlings in 1979.

Thursday's ceremony was attended by government members but not President Kufuor to prevent it becoming an official state event. Notably absent were members of Rawlings' National Democratic Congress (NDC) party, which is now in opposition.

Three of the eight men were reburied at a military cemetery in Accra on Thursday. The five others, including the three heads of state, will be re-buried at private ceremonies in their home towns in the coming days.

Faustina Acheampong, widow of General Acheampong, wailed uncontrollably as his wedding ring, which was found in his grave, was handed to her. Their now grown-up children cried: "Daddy, we love you! Daddy we love you!"

"We're very upset, very angry," said Raphael Felli, 35, a U.S.-based attorney and son of executed Colonel Roger Felli, who was foreign minister in the Acheampong administration. "But our success is our revenge."

A bill is currently before the 200-member Ghanaian parliament seeking to establish a South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate atrocities during the Rawlings years and preceding military regimes.