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Friday, 23 March, 2001, 12:25 GMT
Sierra Leone: Ten years of terror
Rebel soldiers
The rebels have never clearly defined their ideology
By Lansana Fofana in Freetown

Exactly 10 years ago, when a little known ex-army corporal Foday Sankoh launched his armed insurgency from across the Liberian border, many people did not take him seriously.


The rebels insist that they are fighting for the establishment of an egalitarian state

Initially, the then government of Joseph Momoh dismissed it as a minor border skirmish and did little to keep the rebels at bay.

He was then toppled by disgruntled army officers.

The war has come a long way, leaving in its wake more than 30,000 dead and thousands more mutilated.

Escape

About a quarter of the country's 4.5 million people have been either forced to flee to neighbouring countries as refugees or become internally displaced.

Foday Sankoh
Foday Sankoh was virtually unknown when he launched the rebellion
The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel movement has never clearly defined its ideology or political aspirations.

Its war has been conducted on the basis of terror and atrocities committed mainly against civilians.

The rebels insist that they are fighting for the establishment of an egalitarian state and the overthrow of what they perceive as the corrupt political class in Freetown.

Peace accords

In the course of the conflict several peace accords have been reached between the rebels and the government.

But none have so far worked.

Young girl walking on crutches
The war has left thousands of amputees
Not even the intervention of the regional peacekeeping force Ecomog or the United Nations mission has brought this bloody and destructive crisis to an end.

Some analysts say that the retraining and equipping of the Sierra Leonean army by the British may just turn things around.

But there seems little political will on the part of the government to put this army into action against the RUF.

The rebels have now reluctantly allowed the deployment of UN peacekeepers in a northern town which they control.

But the lucrative diamond regions in the east are firmly within their grip.

In any case, the war itself is considered to be more about diamonds and the control of territory than political power - a reason why many foreign interests have been drawn into the fray.

The hope of most Sierra Leoneans today is to see this ugly chapter of their country's history closed.

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See also:

12 May 00 | Africa
Foday Sankoh: Rebel leader
31 May 98 | From Our Own Correspondent
Democracy returns to Sierra Leone
08 Jul 99 | Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone tests a troubled region
27 Jul 00 | Africa
Analysis: Sankoh under pressure
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