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Last Updated: Friday, 23 May, 2003, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
Sierra Leone fighters turn friends
By Alice Martin
BBC Africa Live! in Freetown

Although the war is over in Sierra Leone, the fighters - or at least, the ex-fighters - still have a role to play.

Rashid Sandy and Foday Sajuma
The former enemies found they were relations
When Rashid Sandy first met Foday Sajuma in Freetown's Talking Drum studios, he was dismayed to find an ex-combatant from an opposing faction.

But they began talking and before long found that Mr Sajuma was actually related to Mr Sandy on his mother's side.

"All this time we had been throwing bullets at one another," Mr Sandy, a former high-ranking official in the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), told BBC World Service's Africa Live! programme.

"Now, besides being a co-worker, Foday is also my uncle. It's amazing."

Commitment to peace

The RUF were responsible for some of the worst atrocities in West Africa in recent times.

"He has to bless me," Mr Sajuma joked.

Former soldiers at the Talking Drum studios
The former soldiers meet up in the mornings at Talking Drum
"He wouldn't be living now if it weren't for the hospitality of my organisation."

Mr Sajuma is a former fighter of the Civil Defence Forces - also known as Kamajors - who supported the government of the now President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.

CDF forces held Rashid Sandy for 6 months towards the end of the war.

"They could see I was committed to peace, that's why they didn't kill me," he said.

This kind of banter continues on and off the microphone - the two are co-presenting a programme in the local Krio language, originally entitled "Throw Away the Gun".

Now that the disarmament process has advanced, they have changed the name to "Let's Build Sierra Leone".

Forgiving communities

It was a brave move by the directors of Talking Drum studios, who are even sponsored by a peace-building organisation, Search for Common Ground.

And they went further - as soon as Rashid was comfortable with his role as a producer and presenter, he was put in charge of the studio's Makeni office in northern Sierra Leone, the former national headquarters of the RUF.

The decision to place Rashid in Makeni has had a big impact on the numbers of former fighters coming in on the peace process there.

Makeni is now a peaceful community
Many of the ex-combatants are nervous of returning home, either for fear of reprisals or through guilty feelings.

But in fact, communities are generally a deal more forgiving than anyone could have imagined.

About 70,000 ex-combatants have been disarmed in Sierra Leone - although this does not count anyone who did not have a weapon to hand in - and more than 30,000 have received official benefits package which includes training in skills such as carpentry, farming, tailoring, and computers.

New breed of soldier

But after a few months training, ex-combatants are still at the lower end of a competitive job market, and some have voted with their feet and stuck to the skills they know.

The reported death of former RUF leader Sam Bockarie, alias "Masquita", in Liberia - and other reports of Sierra Leonians joining the conflict in Ivory Coast - are indications of a new breed of African mercenary.

The sign-up for such fighters is reportedly as much as $500.

These men can kill, rape and pillage a community that is not their own, and they need no ideology.

While things are currently looking up for Sierra Leone, the real test of reconciliation will be over the next two years, as the UN withdraws the 15,000 soldiers of its Unamsil force.

I was one of five concscientious objectors (non-combatant) that was based at Grahamstown's 6th South African Infantry Unit from 1986 - 1988. We were singled out for special attention as the enemy within, and treated with disbelief by our family and friends back home. In the end we gave up trying to speak about our experiences and took refuge in silence. I do not see how speaking about what happened will change anything now. There was a time when speaking about such matters was important in terms of arguing for change, but not anymore.
Campbell Lyons, South Africa

Rules of engagement? Which rules? Those of universal morality, or those set by the defunct UN, which caters for the previledged few? What happened in Sierra Leone, Angola, Congo, and Rwanda, would only serve as a footnote in world history. So I say, Africans must learn to manage their affiars. Conflict resolution is not a western thing, it's human.

I have just return from a trip to Sierra Leone, where I met and dined together with people who had been resonsible for the murder of lots of people from my vilage, including my brother and cousin. The hard fact is that, life has to go on. Especially so when some of the so-called crminals are blood relatives. Arrest the conflict before it starts. This way, you would not need to rely on any rules of engagement.
Dr. Manson James Sesay, USA

I spent many years in Liberia during and after the civil conflict. I spoke to and indeed worked with many ex-combatants. In my opinion the only way to reach out to these people is to not only provide the necessary training but to ensure they are gainfully employed. Taking a gun from someone giving them a shovel to dig ditches will not work.

I would strongly recomend the international community spent money on studying exactly what natural assets thes countries have be it gold diamonds, rubber, or forestry and put down a blue print that will enable the goverments in power to make these assets work for the people.
Steve Ambrose, UK

I was conscripted at 17 and spent two years in the SADF, mostly in the operational area. I had nightmares about things that happened to me and around me during my time in the army until about three years ago (when a Dutch friend prayed for me!) When I came out of the army I was still too young to be allowed to take a book out of the National Library - but I had been a qualified soldier for the state... When I went into basic training I thought of myself as a hero; but after two years I thought of myself as a criminal, tarnished by complicity in some really bad things. I have consciously tried to live my life since then in such a way as to bring life to others, rather than death. I don't think I shall ever have release from that obligation.
Martin Mostert, South Africa

Yes, fomer enemies can learn to live with each other in peace. The basic thing in any lasting peace is when fomer enemies come together, talk about their differences and forgive each other - only then they will learn from their mistakes and live a normal life and have a peaceful future.
Anderson M Khonteh, Germany

Former enemies can leave with each other in peace. Those who are making the peace should always put past issues behind them. They should think of there children and those after them. Peace is the only way that a nation just from war can progress. Some times it's good to go to war. The world powers went to war within their country. USA, England, China, ect. Now they are living in perfect peace. One day Sierra Leone will live in perfect peace.
Abu Kamara, USA

For a normal person to face a destressing scene is a very hard one. I have undergone this situation as I am from one of the remote area of Maoist Insurgenct going on here in Nepal for the last seven years. In this crisis, every individual, whether innocent or guilty, politically active or intellect, they are all treated the same by the government and the rebels' side. These two sides should have clearly demarked their range of operation - which is missing, sad to say. People are suspicious of each other and are engaged in confrontational or violent acts leading to casualties and deaths.
Hari, Nepal

Use the form to send us your experiences of conflict, which will be published below.

What should the rules of engagement be in a conflict?

Can former enemies learn to live with each other in peace?

BBC World Service's Africa Live! will be discussing these and other issues on 28 May at 1630 and 1830 GMT.

Your E-mail address

Disclaimer: The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all emails will be published.

Victims of a brutal war
20 Apr 03  |  From Our Own Correspondent
Sierra Leone truth body starts
14 Apr 03  |  Africa


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