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Sierra Leone's gruesome civil war
by Staff Writers
Freetown (AFP) May 30, 2012

Sierra Leone's civil war, unleashed by the notorious Revolutionary United Front, was one of Africa's most atrocious in recent history, leaving 120,000 dead and thousands of civilians mutilated.

Liberia's former president Charles Taylor was Wednesday handed a 50-year jail term by a UN-backed court for crimes against humanity and war crimes, for aiding and abetting the RUF rebels during the 1991-2001 conflict.

The rebels have been accused of the worst violence, but all of 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 often deadly amputations, and the kidnapping of thousands of children who were then forced to fight among their ranks.

The civil war followed on from the conflict in neighbouring Liberia, started by Taylor on Christmas Eve 1989.

On March 23, 1991 the RUF, led by former army officer Foday Sankoh, crossed the border from Liberia. 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 Freetown, called 'Operation No Living Thing', occupying the capital 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 UN agreed to set up a special tribunal for 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, and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, made up of members of the former military junta and the RUF.

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