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Guinea: new Sierra Leone arrivals include child soldiers

Briefing notes

Guinea: new Sierra Leone arrivals include child soldiers

11 August 2000

Fifteen child soldiers and a number of women and young girls who had been held by rebels were among a group of 2,500 new refugees who crossed the border from Sierra Leone over a period of four days this week to seek refuge in Guinea. Intensified fighting in Sierra Leone's diamond area, fear of government bombing over rebel-held positions and harassment of the population by members of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) are among the reasons cited by the refugees for leaving Sierra Leone.

The rate of arrivals in Guinea has been intensifying since the last week of July. There were only 600 arrivals, for example, between May and July. In the last two weeks alone, more than 4,000 have arrived. Refugees are being accommodated and interviewed by aid workers in Mangay camp, Guéckédou district of Guinea.

A substantial number of young girls and women have declared that they were held against their will, some for several years, by RUF rebel forces who recently decided to free them. They had been serving as domestic workers, or guards for the rebel camps. Some of the adult women said they had been abused.

Fifteen child soldiers have also been identified, including at least two girls. They had served for periods ranging from one to seven years with the rebels or - in one case - with the Sierra Leone army. All said they had been heavily drugged with cocaine, and acknowledged they had been extremely brutal and aggressive. They said they had been captured by armed rebels and forced to fight. They are now asking to be removed from the camps, where they fear some of their former victims may recognize them. They are currently separated from the rest of the camp population and are receiving medical and psychological attention.