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Wednesday, 27 January, 1999, 12:09 GMT
Freetown bears the scars
Attack victims
Civilians said the rebels had attacked them with machetes
BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle was among the first foreign journalists to tour the Sierra Leonean capital after the rebels were driven out in 1999:

Freetown is a devastated city. While bullet and bomb damage speak of a city caught in the crossfire during heavy fighting, much of the destruction is the result of a systematic scorched earth policy used by the rebels when they took the capital.

The rebels, who have now been driven out of most of the city, say they are fighting against government corruption. Most Sierra Leoneans believe, however, that they simply want to grab power. For this reason, the Nigerian-led west African troops who now control the capital are seen as a liberation force by most residents.

As the rebels retreated from the city, they burnt buildings and attacked civilians.

'Killed little children'

Residents are starting to rebuild their homes
"They started beating people, burning houses, seizing things, stealing," one resident recalled. "There are some things they do which I cannot explain. They went to houses, killed little children in the houses."

Men and women with bandaged stumps of limbs told how the rebels had attacked them with machetes, cutting off hands and feet in order to discourage them and others from supporting the government.

Tens of thousands of people made homeless by the war have taken refuge in a football stadium. Most foreign aid workers have fled the conflict, but local Sierra Leonean charities are doing a good job distributing what food aid they have available.

UK support for government

High Commissioner Peter Penfold
Penfold: UK must support Sierra Leonean democracy
A British naval frigate, HMS Norfolk, is off the coast, helping to co-ordinate aid plans, and showing Britain's support for the democratically elected government.

Shuffling between the ship and shore is United Kingdom High Commissioner Peter Penfold, an important figure here. The Sierra Leone Government sees him as one of their key backers. In the past, he caused controversy back in London because of his actions. But he made no secret of Britain's current role:

"It's always been a close link between Britain and Sierra Leone. When the Sierra Leoneans decided to embrace democracy, we were very much involved then.

"We want to be the lead with the international community in supporting this restoration of democracy," Mr Penfold concluded.

Tense situation

Nigerian army
Nigerian-led troops control most of the city
The Nigerian troops still have a heavy presence on the streets of Freetown, and the situation remains tense with the rebel resistance continuing in the eastern end of the city.

Volunteers are queuing up to join the Sierra Leone army, which has been decimated by soldiers defecting to the rebel side. However, unless there is a lasting political solution to the chronic instability, any new soldiers could end up simply fighting a new war.

Even when Freetown is finally cleared of all pockets of rebel resistance, the war could continue in the countryside.

AV The BBC's Mark Doyle
"The situation is still tense and dangerous"
See also:

08 Jul 99 | Sierra Leone
27 Jan 99 | Africa
12 Jan 99 | Africa
04 Jan 99 | Africa
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