Sidmouth dad dodged gun battle

PUBLISHED: 07:05 19 April 2011

PEACE HOPE: Barbara and James Sweetman

PEACE HOPE: Barbara and James Sweetman

Archant

Couple fled Ivory Coast civil war

"A guy with a Kalashnikov was knocking on the window wanting to take everything out of the car"

Barbara Sweetman

DAD-of-two James Sweetman thought “I’ve just got to get back” as he risked being caught up in the cross-fire of a civil war gun battle to race home to wife Barbara.

“The roads were suddenly deserted. I could hear gunfire nearby and knew I couldn’t stop,” he told the Herald.

“It took me about a day to stop shaking.”

The Sidmouth couple, who had stayed in Ivory Coast through several previous conflicts, chose to leave their home in a peaceful west coast village as civil war brewed.

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.”

“Informal road blocks began springing up,” said James.

“We found it very unnerving trying to get into town to buy provisions and decided it was time we left.

“Our daughter, Anita, is having a baby in June. Both our children were very concerned, they didn’t want us to get stuck out there.”

The day the couple left, youths ransacked a helicopter hangar at a banana plantation near their home.

They faced an anxious moment at a road block as they fled, accompanied by two villagers.

“A guy with a Kalashnikov was knocking on the window wanting to take everything out of the car,” said Barbara.

“Everybody was very frightened and nervous. I was just thinking ‘James put your foot down’”.

“We got to a hotel in Abujan and there was gunfire outside because women were demonstrating.

“We’re so fortunate we decided to leave when we did,” said Barbara.

“We’ve been extremely worried since and have spent a fortune on phone calls night and day.

“You just can’t sleep or think straight wondering who has been shot and whether your house has been looted or if your dogs and cats have been killed.”

Loyal workers and villagers have guarded the home and pets the couple left behind.

“It’s been an absolute miracle the whole area where we live has remained peaceful,” added Barbara.

“There have been some horrendous atrocities elsewhere.

“The chap that works with us at the house is like our kids’ uncle- his brother was shot and his body dumped at his front door.

“Two of our managers are missing- we can’t contact them- it’s really worrying us.”


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