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Wednesday, 30 August, 2000, 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK
Eyewitness: Held by the West Side Boys
British soldiers are training Sierra LEone forces
11 British soldiers were taken hostage recently by the West Side Boys
An aid worker in Sierra Leone tells of his 10 days in captivity after being seized by the West Side Boys group. He was released unharmed but remains concerned for his safety and wishes not to divulge his identity.

We were travelling along the main road, through the area controlled by the West Side Boys, when our vehicle was stopped at a checkpoint set up by the group.


Something has to be done about them. They have to be stopped.

We had a lot of materials in the pick-up, some of it underneath plastic sheeting. They searched the vehicle and we asked if we could continue.

They refused to let us go and told us to wait for further instructions.

Then suddenly they put us in the vehicle and drove off the main road into the jungle.

They said we were going to a village about five miles away.

Guys with guns

We stopped half-way and then they took everything from the vehicle.

West Side Boys:
We were later taken to a village about seven miles from the main road and held in close detention until about 8pm that evening.

After that we were taken in a boat to the group's main base in a village called Gberebana and that is where we were held for 10 days.

In Gberebana, we were allowed to move around because there was no way to escape; there were guys with guns everywhere.

They had taken this village over completely; chasing out the people who originally lived there.

Execution

At the beginning, they threatened to execute us because they said the United Nations was planning to attack them.


They could be nice one moment and nasty the next

This was during Operation Thunderbolt, which was aimed at getting rid of the West Side Boys' checkpoints on the main road.

There were lots of the group in the area, despite the UN's claims to have secured it.

They never made any demands.

They only asked that they should be allowed back in the government army and that the government shouldn't use force against them.

You know these boys are just there to cause trouble.

They're very unpredictable - they could be nice one moment and nasty the next.

At the base, there were men and women - some of them very young. Their number varied.

At one point, they announced they said they were mobilising and at that point there were between 200 and 300 armed people there.

In another location, there were 60-100 people.

Drugs and fear

They have a reputation for being drunk, but actually they don't have access to much alcohol. They do smoke a lot of marijuana and they also take some cocaine.

There are many marijuana plantations.

Basically they act like highway robbers; when they run out of things they seize vehicles and steal the contents.

They are capable of committing atrocities. While I was being held, six women suspected of witchcraft were executed by firing squad. They used their AK47s.

I only heard the firing, but a colleague saw three dead bodies.

The thing is I am frightened of these guys because they sneak into town - right past the UN checkpoints.

I am worried about them and I don't want my face to be seen in case they come to my house. But something has to be done about them - they have to be stopped.

Sierra Leone in crisis

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See also:

29 Aug 00 | Africa
26 Aug 00 | African Debates
19 May 00 | Africa
28 Aug 00 | UK Politics
30 Aug 00 | N Ireland
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