Sidmouth couple’s civil war escape ordeal

PUBLISHED: 15:32 15 April 2011 | UPDATED: 12:57 18 April 2011

PEACE HOPE: Barbara and James Sweetman

PEACE HOPE: Barbara and James Sweetman


Parents-of-two fled paradise

"They were armed, they were drunk, they were drugged, they had knives,"

Barbara Sweetman

A SIDMOUTH couple have revealed how they fled paradise amid the sound of gunfire as civil war erupted.

James and Barbara Sweetman feared never seeing their first grandchild when they deserted their idyllic African home of 20 years.

The parents-of-two, whose family base is in Peaslands Road, have since suffered sleepless nights over concerns for employees and friends - who they consider as family-in Ivory Coast.

This week they hailed the fact their small west coast village has not fallen victim to militia murder, violence, atrocities and looting, as an “absolute miracle.”

Couple’s peace hope

SIDMOUTH couple James and Barbara Sweetman say the fact that their “paradise” Ivory Coast village has remained a sanctuary from the horrors of war proves the majority of Ivory Coast’s population is peace-loving.

“What you see on television doesn’t represent all of the people,” they said.

The couple have managed a procurement firm which harvests and exports a rare fruit for nearly two decades.

“We have 50 employees on different stations spread across the country - they are all from different ethnic groups,” said James. “They are a great team and look after each other.

“People just want to get on with their lives and live together in peace.

“There has been no violence in our village- it’s remarkable.”

James, 64, escaped being caught up in the crossfire of a gun battle by a matter of moments. “He came home from work and said: ‘there’s guys with guns and machetes. I think we should get going’”, said Barbara, 63.

The couple faced a tense moment when challenged by young militia at an informal road block when they headed for the airport. “They were armed with Kalashnikovs, they were drunk, they were drugged, they had knives,” said Barbara. The couple manage a rare fruit export company in the country.

“There have been horrendous massacres,” they said.

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