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Tuesday, 30 May, 2000, 14:16 GMT 15:16 UK
Sierra Leone's rescued child soldiers
Rescued Sierra Leonean children
The children were led away in the middle of the night
By Jane Standley in Freetown

More than 80 Sierra Leonean child soldiers have been rescued from a rebel-controlled area by a charity worker.

We don't want to fight again

Rescued child soldier
Kaszibuloh Koroma walked with the children for over 100 miles to bring them to freedom.

In a refugee compound inside the British security zone around Freetown the children gave thanks for a miraculous escape.

They are safe now.

The former child soldiers had to walk across the front line from rebel territory to escape being sent back into battle.

The RUF rebels had already snatched some of their friends from their demobilisation camp, so the charity workers who had been caring for them hatched a daring, but dangerous, plan.

Kaszibuloh Koroma
Kaszibuloh Koroma: "I started to build up hope we would succeed"
Kaszibuloh Koroma led them away in the middle of the night.

"There was fear in their hearts," he said.

"But as we started and we moved for the first one hour, then the second hour, then I started to build hope that we would succeed," he explained.

Dangerous escape

For three days, boys like Desmond braved attacks, fire-bombs, thirst and hunger.

Rescued Sierra Leonean children
For three days the boys braved attacks, fire-bombs, thirst and hunger
Desmond's identity must be protected.

At 15, he is a true veteran, one of the rebels most vicious fighters since they abducted him, aged only 7.

But he doesn't want to go back to war. "We like it here. We are safe now," he said.

"They give us food and we play football, and we don't want to fight again," Desmond added.

The real fighters

Rescued Sierra Leonean children
Some of the boys were the real fighters for the rebels
The children's escape from the RUF rebels was terrifying but worth it.

"We would have lost all of them," Kaszibuloh said.

"And then there would have been more atrocities around where they would have been. Because they're the real fighters that the older rebels are using to cause atrocities, harassment, loot and rape," he added.

They cannot be used like child soldiers while they have protection.

But no-one knows how many other children are being forced to the front, in this most dirty of wars.

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See also:

22 Jan 00 | Europe
Child soldier ban moves closer
25 Jun 99 | Africa
The child victims of war
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