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Former President James Michel has said that the Truth, Reconciliation and National Unity Commssion has a unique opportunity to bring about healing that is necessary as our islands move forward

in its development.

President Michel Tuesday told the Commission by skype from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that Seychelles today is recognized globally as among the most developed island states.
“It is my wish that as a Commission you can bring about reconciliation, as otherwise there can be more hatred. We must stop stomping (pile) on one another,” he said.
President Michel is one of the rare leaders, having participated in the 5 June Coup d’Etat still alive.
The Commission’s Chairperson, Mrs. Gabrielle McIntyre commented after his one hour 40 minute appearance: “It has been enlightening to hear from you.” She noted that the former President has touched on an important issue. That of everyone telling the truth, as she is aware that the Commission is immersed in many rumours.
She said there is a need to call President Michel again to talk more about the army and the intelligence services.
The hearing began with President Michel claiming that lies have been spread about him and his intention to appear before the Commission on Social media. He said before leaving for Seychelles for commitments abroad on August 25, he had received just one letter from the Commission to which he had replied.
He added that it was never his intention to boycott the Commission, as alleged in some posts on social media.
Mrs. McIntyre said that three letters had been addressed to him, but that two were sent during September.
President Michel said most of what he knew about the June 5 coup d’Etat-before and after- is contained in his autobiography “Distant Horizons”. Its publication coincided with his accession to the Presidency in April 2004.
He said he appeared before the Commission on his own free will. “I was not coerced and have no hidden agenda,” said Mr. Michel who added that his intention was to clear his name.
“I am not a coward and will never be one,” he said.
Tuesday, much of Mr. Michel’s appearance was to throw more clarity on the coup- its preparation, organization and what happened during and after the event.

Early days in politics- deplorable living conditions

Mr. Michel said he was a supporter of the Seychelles People’s United Part (SPUP) which was waging a struggle for Seychelles’ independence and transform the islands into a more egalitarian society. He was introduced to the party leadership by the late Mathew Servina and Dr. Maxime Ferrari in 1974.
At the time, he was an employee of Cable & Wireless.
Mr. Michel said the officials with the backing of leader Mr. Albert René co-opted him into the Party’s Central Executive Committee. He said this allowed him to continue to militate for Seychelles’ independence.
According to Mr. Michel, however independence and the Coalition Government changed little for most Seychellois. He said the islands continued to be run for the benefit of only around 50 families, who owned virtually all the land. Most Seychellois lived in deplorable conditions, he said.
Mr. Michel pointed out that Seychelles was a society divided by class. There were fee paying schools while at the hospital, patients were also considered on their ability to pay. At the hospital, patients with little financial means, were made to sleep on the verandah.
It was soon after independence in June 1976, that Michel said, he was approached by Ogilvy Berlouis, the Party’s External Representative, based in the Tanzanian capital, Dar-Es-Salaam. They talked about the need for radical change, to do away with the class system that pervaded Seychellois society.
Mr. Michel said he was subsequently introduced to President René. Still, Mr. René did not inform him of his plans for a coup, if he had worked it out then. Mr. René, Michel said, is a good leader, but also a fine strategist.
Responding to questions from the Commissioners, Michel revealed that those involved in the coup- when it did take place, were divided into those who knew what was going to happen- those who know of the coup plan, but did not know when it would take place. A third category was those who were recruited on the eve of action- June 4.
Michel said he personally recruited Francis Rachel, whom he knew personally. Maxime Ferrari, who had addressed the Commission a few times already, knew of the coup, but was not told when it would happen, as Mr. René did not trust his loose tongue.
Still, responding to questions, Michel said a minority of coup participants had received prior military training. Some, including Berlouis received training in Tanzania. He once went to Tanzania for a course and met Berlouis who showed him an SLR rifle. This was how to load it for use, but it did not fire as its cartridge held no bullets.
Asked about the recording of a speech to coup participants by Mr. René, which was played at the Commission, Michel said he had registered it as he viewed what was said to be of historical importance.
Mr. Michel said he later placed the tape recorder in the SPUP Museum.
Mr. Michel said his role in the coup was mainly in the field of communications. On the night of the coup, he carried no gun, but a walkie- talkie. He was driven around by the late Freddy Lalande. He was not part of the group who attacked the Police Mobile Unit (PMU) armoury opposite the Mont Fleuri police station.
Mr. Michel was shown carrying a gun at Rachel’s funeral, when he accompanied Dr. Ferrari. He explained that this was one of the guns, he picked up at police HQ the next day.
He reported how the coup was going on, including the deaths of coup participant Rachel and Police Officer Berard Jeannie. He said at one point he was lying on the ground near a large apple tree, not far from the PMU HQ, when a bullet whizzed past his ear and lodged into the tree.
Everything, Mr. Michel said, was moving so fast and there was quite a bit of confusion, with people running around. It was established later that Rachel had been killed by a ricochet bullet. He could not tell who had shot Jeannie.
But the deaths of both men affected him very much emotionally as he knew both, who came from the same western part of Mahe as himself.
Mr. Michel said it pained him immensely as they had grown up and been schooled together.
The loss of the two men was reported to coup leaders René and Ferrari, who were monitoring the situation, from the latter’s residence at Valriche (Sans Souci).

The coup planned to be bloodless

Though, the coup was planned to be a bloodless affair, Michel said, accidents happen and this is highly regrettable.
Michel said the day of the June 5, he spent monitoring activities at the port, where the yacht of Adnan Kashoggi left after hearing what had happened. He later went to the airport and in the afternoon went to tour South Mahe. He was generally ensuring that the curfew declared on the main islands was being respected.
That meant that Michel was not present at Victoria Police headquarters, when Davidson Chang Him was killed. He heard about Chang Him’s death later. The main people at the police headquarters, were the new President, Albert René, the new Police Commissioner and Dr. Ferrari.
According to the sequence of events narrated to him, Chang Him had come to the police headquarters, demanding to see Mr. René and was shot by Philip D’Offay, a coup participant. He also heard that both Mr. René and Dr. Ferrari came down upon hearing a shot and Chang Him was taken to hospital.
Mr. Michel said that that Jeannie, Rachel and Chang Him who unfortunately lost their lives, were unfortunate and regrettable. He added they should not have happened and such tragic happenings deeply disturbed him.
Michel was also asked about the death of Gilbert Morgan, who disappeared before the coup. He said when that happened, he was out of the country.
Asked about pep pills, reportedly given to coup participants, Michel said that he was unaware of that, though he had also heard about it much later. Dismissing suggestions, he had anything to do with that, he said that in any event, to issue medication for any purpose, it would have made more sense to seek the advice of the doctor in the group.
Mr. Michel said that the armoury was cut by one Mellon- then known as “bonom Gas”.
Mr. Michel said after the coup, he was appointed Minister of Information and Administration.
Mr. Michel admitted he was appointed Chairman of the Liberation Memorial Fund, set up after the coup to assist the bereaved families of the three men.
Later, he said, the fund was extended to cover the families of other people who in one way or another died, in events following the coup. These were mainly the mercenary attack of November 1981 (when a local soldier, David Antat and a South African mercenary were killed) and the army rebellion of August 1982, (over a dozen people, including civilians) lost their lives.

1977 Coup changed Seychelles for the better

Mr. Michel also dismissed suggestions that as Education Minister since 1979) he ran the National Youth Service (NYS).
He said that Mr. René viewed this new institution of his as so important that he set up a special committee to manage it. At one time, there was a Principal Secretary appointed for Youth, who was also in charge of the NYS, reporting directly to Mr. René.
Mr. Michel conceded that the coup made some collateral damage and not everyone agreed with the one-party state, set up after, which continued until 1993. He said however, it was a minority who was affected.
He however noted that positively, the single party ensured that things moved fast. It created unprecedented opportunities for all Seychellois. Had land not been re-redistributed with land reform, thousands of Seychellois families would still be without a home of their own. As it is, home ownership – at over 80% is among the world’s highest.
Asked about the Seychellois who went or were forced into exile, Mr. Michel said they constitute a minority. The big majority of the Seychellois people benefitted under the system.
Mr. Michel admitted the notion of a single party state today is outdated. However, even when multi-party rule was restored in 1993, Mr. René’s Party- the Seychelles People’s Progressive Front (SPPF) and later Parti Lepep won all elections.
Mr. Michel said he is prepared to come before the Commission again if nececessary. He said he is also proud of the fact that he played a role in the evolution to a pluralist state.
He however informed the Commission that he was not bound to answer questions relating to issues arising in the Third Republic since this is beyond the mandate of the Commission. It was clear reminder to the Commissioners that they have to act within the mandate given to them by law. It is anticipated that if the Commission continues to overstep its mandate, very soon the Commission will find itself before the Supreme Court.


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