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Sierra Leone's gruesome 10-year civil war
by Staff Writers
Freetown (AFP) April 24, 2012

The civil war in Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2001, unleashed by rebels from the notorious Revolutionary United Front (RUF), was one of the most atrocious in Africa's recent history, leaving 120,000 dead and thousands of civilians mutilated.

The judgment in the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, accused by the United Nations of funding and supporting the rebels, is set to be handed down on Thursday in The Hague.

The rebels have been accused of the worst violence, but all the parties to the conflict have been implicated.

The war was marked by atrocities by drug-fueled combatants and child soldiers against the civilian population and remains associated with gruesome images of adults and children who had their limbs hacked off.

The rebels gained notoriety for murders, systematic rapes, abductions, the amputations, from which most victims did not recover due to lack of health care, and the kidnapping of thousands of children who were then forced to fight among their ranks.

The civil war was an emanation of that in neighbouring Liberia started by Taylor on Christmas eve 1989.

Taylor is accused by the UN of providing financial support, military training, personnel, ammunition and other support to the RUF in order to obtain access to the mineral wealth - especially diamonds - of Sierra Leone.

On March 23, 1991 the RUF, led by former army officer Foday Sankoh, crossed the border from Liberia and captured several villagers.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians fled their homes in terror as the rebels shot, looted and raped their way through the diamond rich southern and eastern parts of the country.

The government accused Taylor, at the time the chief rebel of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), of being behind the attacks.

In 1993 the rebels withdrew to the far east and the south. In 1994 they launched lightning raids -- ambushes, looting and attacks on industrial and agricultural installations -- and started to abduct foreigners.

In January 1999 the RUF and its allies from a former military junta launched an assault on the capital Freetown, called 'Operation No Living Thing', which it occupied for more than three weeks at the cost of 6,000 lives.

Human Rights Watch said that the rebels systematically carried out all sorts of atrocities against civilians there.

"The practice of mutilation and in particular the amputation of hands, arms and legs was widespread. The rebels used axes, machetes and knives...", it said.

In January 2002, the end of the war was officially declared. The government and the UN signed an agreement to set up a special tribunal to try perpetrators of atrocities against civilians, which included, according to Human Rights Watch, "some of the worst violations of human rights in the world".

Since 2004 the Special Court for Sierra Leone has tried individuals from the three different factions from the war: the pro-government militia, the paramilitary Civil Defense Forces (CDF), and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) made up of members of the former military junta and the RUF.

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