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Former NPRC strongman Komba Kambo released

20 October 2007 at 02:40 | 1575 views

By Steven Kreytak

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

After a federal judge ruled earlier in the day that immigration authorities had violated his rights, former African coup leader Sam Kambo joyously walked out of a private lockup in San Antonio on Thursday evening into the arms of his wife and four children.

The 39-year-old North Austin resident had two large garbage bags filled mostly with books he had accumulated during his year in detention. The partial title of one could be seen through the plastic: "Endurance."

The title was to an Antarctic survival tale of British explorer Ernest Shackleton, but it could also be given to Kambo and his family. They were reunited despite the stubborn efforts of immigration authorities and government lawyers who fought to deport him and keep him jailed in the face of a chorus of friends and co-workers who call Kambo a model citizen, and an immigration judge’s order that said the government’s allegations that he participated in a 1992 mass murder in his native Sierra Leone are unfounded.

"I feel great. It’s like a dream, really," Kambo said. "I just want to be with my family."

He held tight to his 4-year-old son, Seth. His daughters, Shaina, 10, Hannah, 10, and Samantha 13, stood shyly by while reporters asked their father questions. His wife, Hanaan, who says she has fed her family in the past year with the help of charity, especially from her husband’s co-workers at the Lower Colorado River Authority, said she would oblige his request for some African cooking.

"We’ve had so many dreams of him coming out," Hanaan Kambo said. "I just hope that we wake up in the morning and see him there."

Kambo was one of eight soldiers who led a coup in Sierra Leone in April 1992 and later served as energy minister and in other posts with the National Provisional Ruling Council government. He came to the United States in 1994 to study at the University of Texas on a diplomatic visa and, after graduating, received a series of work visas, most recently to work at the LCRA as an energy analyst.

When he left his home country, media reports there included allegations that Kambo stole from the government upon his departure, Kambo said. His family and his lawyer believe that those allegations were later repeated to U.S. authorities, along with new allegations that he had smuggled diamonds from Sierra Leone.

They said those allegations, which Kambo and his family vehemently deny, might be the reason why after years of living a normal life in Austin, Kambo was arrested a year ago at an interview on his application for permanent residency.

"I think they received ... false information from a few sources and failed toperform due diligence in checking their stories," said Kambo’s lawyer, Simon Azar-Farr. "Once the machinery of government got rolling, no one had the guts to come forward and say, ’We are wrong.’ "

At a June hearing, Department of Homeland Security lawyers made no mention of corruption charges. They said they were seeking to deport Kambo for directing the December 1992 summary execution of about 30 Sierra Leoneans accused of plotting to overthrow the government Kambo had helped sweep to power.

Immigration Judge Gary Burkholder found on June 29 in a lengthy ruling giving Kambo permanent residency that Kambo had not participated in the killings. Burkholder wrote that Kambo "had some prior knowledge of the plan to arrest and execute regime opponents ... but that he did not directly participate in that operation or actively assist it."

Government lawyers appealed Burkholder’s ruling and continued to appeal an earlier immigration judge’s decision to set bail in Kambo’s case. Kambo had remained in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody while those appeals were pending.

Last month, Azar-Farr sued the government on Kambo’s behalf, accusing it of violating Kambo’s rights and the regulations in the immigration law system.

U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez said at a hearing Thursday that the most difficult part of the case was determining whether he had the legal authority to interject in the immigration case.

He found that he did and asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Anderson for a reason why Kambo shouldn’t be released on bond. Anderson had none.

Rodriguez said that Kambo is not a flight risk and not dangerous. About 10:30 a.m., he ordered the government to release Kambo if he made $12,500 bond. Rodriguez later filed an order saying that detaining Kambo without justification violated his constitutional rights to due process.

About 1:30 p.m. Kambo’s family paid the bond, filled out paperwork at the immigration offices and waited for him to arrive. After several hours, they began to fear they might be disappointed.

Kambo was finally released about 6:15 p.m. He told his family that he had been ready to go hours earlier but immigration agents told him they were waiting for the media to leave.

"This case," Azar-Farr said, "has seen one abuse of power after another."

Photo: A joyous Kambo and his family.

Credit: American-Statesman.

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