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Friday, June 25, 1999 Published at 02:02 GMT 03:02 UK

World: Africa

'Sierra Leone abuses worse than Kosovo'

This 15-year-old girl had her arms hacked off

The United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson has said the scale of human rights abuses in Sierra Leone is greater than in Kosovo.

On a visit to the West African state, she said the international community must act to stop the killing and torture.

Mary Robinson: "Girls as young as 10, 11 and 12 have been raped"
As her helicopter arrived in the capital, Freetown, nearby streets were thronged with displaced civilians who had fled rebel atrocities in rural areas.

Many of them showed terrible wounds or had limbs hacked off.

Mrs Robinson said she wanted to emphasise the need for justice and stressed that her visit was not a one-off trip but part of a greater commitment to Sierra Leone by the international community.

She said it was for others to judge whether the world was exercising double standards by reacting firmly to Kosovo, while paying less attention to Sierra Leone.

"Worst in world"

Mary Robinson's visit coincided with a report saying atrocities committed in Sierra Leone were among the worst violations of human rights in the world.

Sierra Leone
New York-based Human Rights Watch said entire families had been gunned down in the street by rebels, children and adults had been mutilated with machetes, and girls were taken to rebel bases and sexually abused.

The report contains eyewitness accounts of mass murder by the rebels and systematic, organised rape.

One witness saw a female rebel commander forcibly inspecting girls to see if they were virgins, and then handing them over to the rebels who raped them

International apathy

Human Rights Watch Corrine Dufka tells of execution and amputation units
Human Rights Watch said the widespread violations in Sierra Leone had been largely ignored by the international community.

"This is not a war in which civilians are accidental victims," Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

"This is a war in which civilians are the targets."

He urged Mary Robinson, to "mobilise international support for the investigation and punishment of Sierra Leone's war criminals."

More posts offered

[ image: RUF leader Foday Sankoh]
RUF leader Foday Sankoh
Meanwhile, reports from Lome where the Sierra Leone government and the rebel RUF are negotiating a peace settlement say another powersharing offer has been tabled.

According to the French news agency, AFP, the government has raised the number of cabinet posts it is prepared to offer the RUF from three to four.

The question of whether President Kabbah's government should share power with the rebels has dominated the debate since the peace talks began a month ago.

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