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 Thursday, 16 January, 2003, 14:13 GMT
Eyewitness: Sierra Leone's rape ordeal
Displaced civilians
Thousands of civilians were forced to flee their homes
As Human Rights Watch reports that systematic rape was committed in Sierra Leone's civil war, FB, a woman who was 10 when her family fled to Liberia in 1991, tells of the ordeal her sister and other girls went through.

We crossed into Vahun where there was a sort of refugee camp.

Oh mother, I'm going to die

FB's sister
We were there for two weeks and terrible things happened.

We thought we had escaped from the rebels but we found many of them there. They controlled the camp.

Even though food was being air dropped, the rebels took it all. They took everything we had, our money, salt, and all our food. The rebels were mixed Sierra Leoneans and Liberians.

'Man business'

About a week after arriving, the rebels came into our house in the evening and took my 15-year-old sister away. My mother stayed up the whole night.

The next day my uncle went from hut to hut looking for her. He called her name and heard her groaning inside a hut. He picked her up and carried her home.

Mutilated girl
Thousands were mutilated during the war

When my mum saw her she burst out crying. I was only 10 and didn't know anything about "man business". My sister was crying all the time and couldn't walk.

She cried: "Oh mother, I'm going to die." My mother just held her and told her it would be OK.

My uncle exchanged five gallons of palm oil so we could get some salt, which my mother later mixed with water and had my sister sit in.

She was bleeding a lot. She told me they had tied her mouth and raped her many times, but I didn't know what rape was.

Dying alone

After that my uncle shaved my head, gave me trousers and made me look like a boy.

When I was walking around a camp I saw a few girls aged under 12 lying on the ground with their legs spread open and blood coming out between their legs.

14-year-old army recruit
All sides in the conflict used child soldiers

Some had their dresses pulled up and others had cloth stuffed in their mouths.

During the two weeks I was in Vahun I saw eight girls like this.

Sometimes their family would come and wrap them in white so I knew they had died.

Other times no-one picked them up and they stayed there for days until someone buried them.

There were so many girls who had lost their parents and were there alone, so no-one would come for them.

Nightmares

I saw the rebels catching young and even older women.

Once they caught an old woman. She said: "No, leave me. I'm too old for this business." But they made fun of her saying: "Oh look, we have caught a young Bundu [initiate into secret society] girl here."

UN vehicle in Freetown
The UN now helps maintain peace in Sierra Leone

Other times I heard women screaming in the middle of the night. Everyday people were dying - from hunger, illness, and this rape.

After that I had dreams about a dead person coming to hurt me.

The only reason we stayed that long was because people were still moving across the border and we figured things were even worse in Sierra Leone.

Besides, the rebels stopped us from going back home, and we did not know anyone in Liberia so we would have died of hunger.

See also:

14 Jan 03 | Africa
25 Sep 02 | Africa
19 Jan 02 | Africa
28 Nov 02 | Africa
28 Nov 02 | Country profiles
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