Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Beah and publisher stand by book - From The Australian

BEST-SELLING author Ishmael Beah and his US publisher have stood by his claim to have spent three years as a refugee and then child soldier in Sierra Leone's civil war despite The Australian finding evidence that his ordeal lasted one year, not three.
"I am right about the dates. This is not something one gets wrong," he said in a letter to the editor of The Australian released through his publisher yesterday.

Beah's publisher, Sarah Crichton, also stood by the accuracy of his book, A Long Way Gone, in which he says he hid from brutal rebels for nine to 10 months and then spent more than two years as a child soldier who was fed drugs and trained to kill.

"I have met many people who knew Mr Beah in Sierra Leone, and who have corroborated his story," Ms Crichton said in her own letter. "When Mr Beah says, as he adamantly does, that the dates in his book are correct, we have absolutely every reason to believe that this is the case."
Contacted later by telephone in New York, Ms Crichton said she could not discuss the issue until after the Martin Luther King long weekend in the US, and that Beah was unavailable because he was travelling in Europe.

The Weekend Australian reported that while Beah, now 27, clearly went through a terrible ordeal in the war, inquiries in Sierra Leone had found that his best-selling version of events was seriously flawed.
The Australian found many witnesses in Beah's home region in Sierra Leone who said the attacks he claims happened in January 1993 actually took place two years later. Beah, who was born in November 1980, was handed over by the army to a UNICEF-backed rehabilitation camp in January 1996.

Some 650,000 copies of his book are in print and Beah, who lives in New York, has become the world's most prominent spokesman for child soldiers.
The Australian investigated the dates and confirmed the discrepancy while at the same time disproving claims by a man in Beah's home village of Mogbwemo that he was Beah's father.
Beah's parents and two brothers were killed in the war.
In his statement yesterday, Beah challenged one of the witnesses quoted by The Australian, Abdul A. Barry, who was a teacher at the Centennial Secondary School in Mattru Jong when Beah went there in the early 1990s.

Mr Barry and his wife, Martha, identified Beah from a photograph shown to them by The Australian and independently named his parents and brother before insisting that he had been at school throughout 1993 and 1994 and that the attacks happened in 1995. Beah said he had never heard of Mr Barry.
Contacted again by The Australian yesterday, Mr Barry said he had no idea why Beah would deny knowing him because "I know him very well".
"He was boarding and I was the boarding master. I also knew his brother Mohamed and their parents. His mother came from Kabati," said Mr Barry, accurately volunteering the mother's home village.

Interviewed at the school in Mattru Jong last week, Mr Barry said rebels did not take over the town until 1995, a version of events confirmed by many other adult witnesses, including the town's acting paramount chief Sylvester Basopan Goba and numerous historical records and published accounts of the war.

Creative writing professor Dan Chaon, who helped Beah produce the book, told The Australian: "If it turns out there are factual errors, I wouldn't necessarily be all that concerned about it."
In his book, Beah says his home town, the mine where his father worked and his mother's town were all attacked in January 1993.
He and a group of friends were then waiting in Mattru Jong for news when a Catholic priest was ordered by the rebels to deliver a message telling people inthe town to co-operate with the rebels. Many people fled immediately; two weeks later, the rebels attacked from a surprise inland route, leaving only one unanticipated escape route on a footpath through a nearby swamp.
That is exactly what happened in 1995, according to the adult witnesses, internal records at the mine and numerous published sources.
The 2004 study "Conflict Mapping in Sierra Leone", published by the group No Peace Without Justice, records that a Catholic priest was detained by rebels in December 1994 and ordered to take just such a message into Mattru Jong, prompting the evacuation ahead of the subsequent attack.

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