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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 December 2005, 10:50 GMT
AK-47: the Sierra Leone child soldier
Child soldier, left, in Sierra Leone
Like this boy, Sangeba was still a child when he fought in the war
All this week, BBC World Service's The World Today programme is looking at the stories behind one of the world's most iconic weapons, the AK-47.

Throughout the week we will be speaking to the people who trade in it, the people who carry it, and the people whose lives have been destroyed by it.


In Africa up to 100,000 children are thought to have been involved in armed conflict last year. The AK-47 is the weapon of choice for child soldiers, as it is light and easy to use but can discharge 600 rounds per minute.

Sierra Leone is a country notorious for its use of child soldiers in its 10-year civil war. Both the government and rebels recruited children. Sangeba was recruited by the rebels

I was a small boy, 12 years old, and I was going to school when the rebels captured me and a lot of my friends. They caught my mother and father, and then killed my father in my presence. Then they went with us to the bush to go and train how to fight.


We were called the Small Boys' Unit (SBU). They sent us to go and loot. They trained us how to load and fire guns including the AK-47. Whether attacking the government forces or civilian towns, we would take the guns.

Normally they sent us ahead to go and spy on a place, and then attacked it later. Most of those guns they used were AK-47 because the AK-47 is the most popular gun.

Once they took us to a jungle in Eastern Province, and I saw a lot of guns, mostly AK47s, and some heavy artillery - G3, FN [both rifles] and RPG [rocket-propelled grenades], you know. I panicked because I had never seen such an amount of weapons before.

Lebanese militant holds an AK-47
Stands for Avtomat Kalashnikova model 1947
Designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov while wounded in hospital - though he later said he wished he invented the lawnmower instead
Produced in greater numbers than any other 20th-Century assault rifle
Fires 600 rounds a minute
Estimated 70-100m in the world
The AK47 has spawned many derivatives, such as the Chinese-manufactured Type 56

Our commanders explained to us that they got them from the Liberians, some said they got them from soldiers they killed, and from Guinea.

Our commanders instructed us to fight to defend ourselves. So I was handling my AK-47 with this in mind. I cannot remember how many people I killed. I was not really intending to do so but for the fact that I was holding this weapon to defend myself.

If you don't fight to kill, whether anybody's coming, whether enemy or friend, if they kill you, they or your commander will leave your body there and go.

That is why I defended myself. I killed a lot of people. I feel so bad now that I am in the town, training people for skilled jobs. I feel so discouraged for the fact that I have been killing people, so sad for the lives that I have dislodged. May God have mercy upon me.

AK-47 is broadcast on BBC World Service's World Today programme every day until 8 December at 2300 GMT.

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