Tuesday, March 2, 1999 Published at 09:09 GMT
Agony words cannot describe
Moses, one of 300 children forced to fight for the rebels
Fergal Keane reports from Sierra Leone
One woman saw her husband and her son shot dead in front of her. She found some of her husband's remains lying among the city's ruined buildings, his head severed from his body. She buried the remains herself.
Massacre at mosque
As the battle escalated, terrified civilians fled from rebel areas. Snipers picked off the stragglers. It was terrifying, but better than the horror that lay behind them in rebel territory.
The rebel leaders want power and Sierra Leone's diamond wealth. Many of their supporters are illiterate peasants, driven by bitter resentment of the city elite.
But it is hard to explain what motivates a man to hack off the arm of an 18-month-old baby girl. Or what impulse drives somebody to push a man into a burning house with his family.
One child, a polio victim, was taken to hospital after he was found crawling on the street after the battle.
Christiane Minah, a nurse at the hospital, said she had no idea who his parents were.
"I think he doesn't have any," she said. "We have been calling him Junior. We don't know anything about him, so we decided to name him that way.
The people say they want food and medicine. Diseases like dysentery are already threatening young lives. Amid the misery the struggle to maintain old routines, to preserve human dignity, continues. Aid will alleviate their discomfort, but only the soldiers and politicians can end their misery.
"I feel dehumanised, because we've lost our loved ones, lost our wives, our mothers, our houses," said John Karim-Tarawalee. "We have worked for them for the past 20 years, they have been burnt down. We have no hope of rebuilding them."
In the space of a few weeks thousands have been killed, and tens of thousands more driven from their homes. The fear now for these people is that the rebels might return.
If they do, people expect little mercy for themselves or their children. People are moving on the streets once again, but at the roadblocks the atmosphere is tense.
The soldiers kicked him as he lay semi-naked on the ground, protesting his innocence. Then he was thrust into a vehicle, driven away, and we do not know what happened to him.
Another captured rebel was shot as he begged for mercy.
Children forced to fight
The rebels captured more than 300 children during their attack, and forced them to fight. One little boy, Moses, was recaptured by the Nigerian soldiers, who slapped and kicked him until an officer and a Government minister intervened to protect him.
Later we found him at a camp where children are kept in the care of the United Nations. He is deeply traumatised and spends hours alone.
That trauma is repeated again and again in Sierra Leone, a country whose agony words can no longer describe.