Attacks as told by victims
MSF 1998 Report: Atrocities against civilians in Sierra Leone
1 May 1998
After having talked to the 70 patients, it became clear that between 15 and 25 April the villages between Njaiama Sewafe and Koidu, East Sierra Leone were attacked by groups of armed men. Some villages seem to have been attacked more then once. Patients told about attacks on their villages both during the day and at night, and also about attacks that occurred on the road, while people were moving between villages or their farms. More recently, on 2nd May, patients started to arrive from the area around Yifin and Alikalia, north-east of Koidu. All patients reported that after the attacks, people scattered into the bush in all directions. In most cases the current whereabouts of these people is unknown. It is also reported that, while moving away from their attacked villages, patients witnessed many "damaged" (wounded) and dead people on the roads. It might well be possible that the 115 patients admitted to the hospital form only a small percentage of the total wounded and mutilated people from these areas. In general, most patients told about attacks that started with groups of men arriving in their villages, calling out that they were ECOMOG, and that they were there to free the villagers. Many villagers mentioned that they were be woken up by a knock on their door, with the order to open the door, that they were ECOMOG and that they were safe. Upon leaving their houses, the villagers then realised that these men did not belong to ECOMOG. Some of the attackers were wearing green fatigues. Villagers were then rounded up, in groups or in lines. They were then, one by one, in front of the other villagers, taken to the pounding block, asked by their attackers which arm they used to work with, after which the right or left arm would be put on the pounding block and amputated with a cutlass. Sometimes a pre-cut would be made with bayonet, to show where the amputation was to happen. People realising what was happening like one teacher, said that he used his left arm, even though he was right handed. His left arm was amputated. Several patient reported that the attackers took the amputated arms with them. One patient said that they did not take his arm, but that he was able to keep his cut-off arm. In some villages, after the people were rounded up, they were stripped naked and ordered to "use their women"; men were ordered to "use" their sister. When men refused to do so, their arms were amputated, and the women were raped by the attackers. After the attack, many patients mentioned that the armed men would tell them to go now, and report themselves to ECOMOG and tell ECOMOG, "That we, the attackers do not want them here, and to tell ECOMOG that the attackers were here, and that they would come to ECOMOG soon". Patients were also told that they should go to President Kabbah, and ask him for a new arm. One patient was given a letter by the attackers, with the order to give it to President Kabbah. Some patients, who did not leave their village after the attack, and when encountering the attackers again, were ordered to leave ; "Why are you still here , we told you to go to ECOMOG !". Other men, who had one or two ears cut off, reported that the attackers told them, that without their ears, they should no longer listen to ECOMOG and the government and that they should listen better to the attackers. Other patients reported that they hid under their beds but that the attackers pulled them out from underneath the bed, or shot under the beds in the room, as they were aware that people were hiding there. One patient reported that she was in a room with a group of other people, and that the attackers shot and killed four people, and the patient hid underneath the 4 dead bodies with her baby until the attackers had left. Several patients reported that groups of people had been rounded up, locked into a house and then the house was set on fire. It was reported that this had happened to women and children. In one family that was interviewed, the older brother had both arms amputated, his wife had one arm amputated, the younger nephew of 16 had both arms amputated, and another relative had both arms badly cut (tendons cut and ulna and radius broken due to cutlass attack). One man of 50 had walked for 4 weeks, from village to village, with both arms amputated, until he reached a place where he found a commercial vehicle that took him and 2 others to Freetown. These examples are just a few of the stories as recorded by the MSF staff. Each patient had a similar gruesome story to tell. 4. CONCLUSION After interviewed 70 patients at Connaught hospital and taking into account credible reports from other parts of the country, MSF strongly believes that the actual number of casualties may be much higher than the number of patients reaching the hospital. All patients interviewed mentioned other people, wounded and mutilated who ran into the bush during the attacks, and who remain unaccounted for. MSF is concerned that a significant proportion of the civilian population of rural Sierra Leone is vulnerable to more attacks of this sort and that no protection is currently available for them. MSF calls upon the international community to look urgently for ways to provide protection and assistance for these civilians.