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Sierra Leone banner Thursday, 8 July, 1999, 08:47 GMT 09:47 UK
A generation of children have known nothing but war
Sierra Leone
In Sierra Leone, fear stalks a land devastated by military coups, an eight-year civil war and the consequent mass displacement of civilians.

In the past year levels of brutality have brought comparisons with recent events in Rwanda as well as with Cambodia in the 1970's.

Victim of rebels
Child amputees are a common sight
The United Nations refugee agency and human rights groups have painstakingly gathered testimony of atrocities committed by rebel forces and former military officers overthrown by a Nigerian-led force in February.

Refugees have told consistent stories of rape, mutilation and murder by elements of the former government.

Aid workers and government officials told a meeting in the capital Freetown, that 1000 people had had their limbs amputated and thousands more had been mutilated or executed since last spring.

Most of Sierra Leone's five million people live off the fruits of the land, growing vegetables, nuts, casava or rice. Chopping off the hands or limbs of peasant farmers has a devastating effect on their ability to feed themselves and their families.

Aid workers report that despite a rebel offensive, the number of people displaced is much less than last year when hundreds of thousands fled the country.

This is largely because the rebels appear to have changed their tactics.

Doctors report that the large-scale mutilation has stopped and that the rebels appear to be trying to convince people to stay in the areas they control.

Exact figures of the numbers of refugees are impossible to come by as the rebel offensive cut off the country's capital, Freetown, from parts of the provinces.

According to the UNHCR, Sierra Leone has produced more than half a million refugees this decade.