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  Ali-haji Sawaneh
  Sawaneh took part in tactical ambushes from the age of 12
 
 
  Arms to Sierra Leone:

• During the 10-year civil war (1991-2001) rebel commanders in Sierra Leone were able to tap into arms supplies from Ukraine, Liberia and Guinea.
• Local commodities such as diamonds, cocoa and coffee were often used to pay for weapons.
 
 
 
   
Internet Links
 
 
    BBC: Sierra Leone country profile
 
 
    Amnesty's arms smuggling
 
 
    United Nations
 
 
    UN Development programme
 
 
     
 
 
  The child soldiers of Sierra Leone

Al-haji Sawaneh's story is typical of his generation. Abducted by Sierra Leonean rebels as a child, he was forced to fight alongside them in the bush.

At the age of 12 he took part in tactical ambushes. He and other Revolutionary United Front (RUF) soldiers would lie silently in wait for government troops, often for days at a time.

Apparently, he showed talent - his commanders were keen to involve him in the fighting - and became a member of the infamous S.B.U. or Small Boys Unit.

Sawaneh told BBC World Service how he and the other child soldiers in his unit were deliberately issued with lightweight automatic rifles like AK-47s because the guns were more manageable:

"They used to give us, the S.B.U, those small guns because if they give us some kind of heavy artillery we would not be able to carry them."

Thousands of children were involved in the decade-long conflict in Sierra Leone. They acquired a reputation among rebel commanders for unquestioning obedience - and a reputation among civilians for extreme cruelty.

Empowered by the rifles they carried, and often high on marijuana or crack cocaine, many of the thousands of children who took part in Sierra Leone's 10-year civil war visited terrible atrocities on the civilian population.

Apart from the infamous ritual 'amputation' of hands, and summary executions, child soldiers sometimes cut open the bellies of pregnant women just to see what sex the child was.

With the advent of peace in Sierra Leone, the country has attempted to comprehend it's own 'insanity'. Chief among the questions being asked is how factions like the RUF were able to acquire their weapons?

Without the power of the gun, the guerrillas, and their child recruits, would simply not have been able to terrorise the country in the way they did.

According to Sawaneh, his commanders told him that the weapons issued to the Small Boys Unit were captured from government troops. The truth is more complex.
 
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