Looking for Peace in Sierra Leone

African civil wars are often brutal and long. But Sierra Leone's descent into chaos was horrifying even by African standards. The former British colony's decade-long civil war killed an estimated 50,000 people, and left some 10,000 without hands or arms. More than a million Sierra Leoneans were left homeless. Human Rights Watch, no stranger to horrible tragedies, called the atrocities "the worst we have seen anywhere in the world."

Most of the atrocities were committed by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Abject rural poverty provided a fertile recruiting ground for the RUF and other rebel groups, who trained children as young as eight into brutish foot-soldiers, fueled by alcohol and drugs.

The RUF's calling card was to hack off the hands or arms from its victims, even children. Murder, rape and abduction were alternatives.

In 2001, the RUF and the government finally started making moves toward peace ending fighting, turning over child soldiers to the UN for repatriation, allowing refugees to return. But restoring life in Sierra Leone after the terrors of the 1990s will be a long struggle.


Recently-released child soldiers wait for processing by the United Nations in eastern Sierra Leone.

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