Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission – Hearing Number 203 |21 September 2021
More confirmed sighting of Andrew Pouponneau at the Bel Eau DFHQ
The mysterious disappearance of Andrew Pouponneau, a sub-lieutenant with the Seychelles People’s Defence Forces in 1982, was once again the highlight of the Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commission (TRNUC) yesterday, with more evidence of his sighting at the Defence Forces Headquarters at Bel Eau.
Appearing as witness in Case 0238 filed by Judith Dupres, ex-army sergeant Richard Bristol confirmed that he saw Andrew Pouponneau at the Bel Eau headquarters after the army mutiny of August 1982.
In his evidence in front of the commission last year, ex-police officer Florent Servina said he was working at the Central Police Station on August 18, 1982 when in the afternoon he witnessed the arrival of Pouponneau who had come to the station to surrender, before being picked up by the army vehicle.
According to official report, Pouponneau jumped out of the moving transport – Pinzgauer army vehicle – with his hands cuffed behind his back, guarded by three soldiers armed with AK-47 rifles at the junction at National House on the way to the Bel Eau Army headquarters and escaped towards the Botanical Gardens.
He was never seen again.
While presenting his own case, ex-soldier Joe Rath, who was also a key member of the mutiny, noted that while being tortured at Bel Eau, he saw Pouponneau who was badly beaten and gasping for air.
Another witness, namely retired army Lieutenant Kenneth Pillay, also confirmed before the TRNUC that Andrew Pouponneau was indeed brought to the army headquarters and that he personally saw him.
Mr Bristol’s confirmation surely brought more question on what really happened to Sub-Lieutenant Pouponneau following the rebellion, while familiar names of well-known perpetrators keep surfacing around the case.
Being involved in the rebellion against his will, Mr Bristol said after he surrendered himself at the Beau Vallon Police Station, along with two other colleagues, he was picked up and brought to the army headquarters and it was at that time that he saw Pouponneau.
Mr Bristol said upon arriving at Bel Eau, captured and surrendered soldiers were tied with their hands behind their back, while some were being assaulted.
He identified Walter Tirant as one of the officers who was assaulting the soldiers.
Mr Bristol said after being brought in front of ex-President Albert Rene who was also at Bel Eau, he was cleared and asked to resume his duty, only to be stopped by Phillip Lucas and Raymond Bonte who ordered his arrest and detention in a cell.
He said the two told him that Mr Rene did not overthrow the country on his own and that they also have a say in the decision-making.
Regarding Andrew Pouponneau, Mr Bristol confirmed that he was at Bel Eau and was confronted by Lucas and Bonte, with the latter hitting him on the neck area with the butt of an AK 47 riffle.
He said Pouponneau was then thrown in the back of an army vehicle, supposedly to be taken to the hospital.
He added that a certain Justin Hermitte (a loyal soldier) also accused Andrew Pouponneau of firing on him and his team with the intention of killing them.
After supposedly taken to the hospital, Pouponneau was never seen again and according to Mr Bristol, when they enquire about his whereabouts, they were threatened by soldiers who told them to keep quiet if they did not want to go through the same fate.
Mr Bristol also expressed his anger toward Bonte and Lucas who publicly denied in front of the TRNUC that they knew Pouponneau.
He said they were senior officers at the Pointe Larue Camp (PLC) when Pouponneau was doing his training there, while Bonte called him by his name at the army headquarters before assaulting him with the rifle butt.
General witness – Ombudsman Nichole Tirant-Gerhardi
The second person in open session before the TRNUC yesterday was Ombudsman Nichole Tirant-Gerhardi who came as a general witness to give an insight on the legal profession and the judiciary during the one party state.
Mrs Tirant-Gerhardi came back to Seychelles in August 1978, following her law studies to see a country with President having absolute power.
Based on her bonding agreement with government prior to her departure, she was offered two posts, precisely assistant secretary within the Ministry of Agriculture, and another post within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
With the law degree, she chose the latter, but was offered the former.
She explained that it was a blessing since the Ministry of Agriculture was the biggest ministry at that time and she had a clearer insight of the changes happening at that time, including the centralised government programme which was being introduced.
Mrs Tirant-Gerhardi said at that time many parastatals were being created, along with sections and departments within the Ministry of Agriculture, including all state farms, agricultural outstations, all under the Seychelles Agricultural Development Company (Sadeco).
For a broader perspective, Mrs Tirant-Ghérardi proposed the book entitled ‘The Seychelles Unquiet Islands’ by Marcus Franda which traces the historical background of the Seychelles from their first settlements through independence from Britain in 1976 and into the early 1980s. It focuses on the issues of environment, social and race relations, economic and strategic forces, and domestic and international politics.
Mrs Tirant-Gerhardi described the early period after coup as a very frightening one with fear being instilled within the population.
One incident she talked about was a presidential trip to Iraq, whereby a bilateral fishing agreement was signed.
She explained that the content of the agreement was sent to the Ministry of Agriculture for comments.
Based on the agreement, Iraqi fishermen were to come and fish in our territorial water, and according to her, the law at that time clearly stated that such action was not permitted.
Mrs Tirant-Gerhardi said the minister responsible for agriculture at that time was not happy with whatever comment was made regarding the agreement and informed her that she needs to understand that Seychelles is no longer a colonial country and that she – Miss Tirant at that time – was a colonial parrot.
She explained that the incident was a wakeup call for her, making her realise that she would not be a good civil servant in the new administration.
Following that, she left for further studies, precisely her last year at law school and once back in the country, she worked at the Attorney General’s office as State Counsel.
Ambitious to take charge of the Victoria Law Centre, Mrs Tirant-Gerhardi was denied the chance, allegedly based on lack of qualification.
She then left the country in 1987 and returned in 1994 where she practiced law as an attorney, where she realised the change – return of the multi-party system – was just an illusion.
One thing that really caught her attention regarding the judicial system at that time was the regular interaction between judges and accused.
Something which she said she had never seen before and encouraged her to quit her job as a lawyer, to join the Seychelles Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI).
She explained that despite the supposed change, the same system, laws and people were still in place, while good governance and transparency were irrelevant.