Human Rights Watch today charged that the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone is imposing a reign of terror on the Masiaka area of Sierra Leone. Masiaka, located about fifty miles east of the capital Freetown, is near the front line of fighting between the RUF rebels and the pro-government forces. It is also near the site where two international journalists were killed on Wednesday by RUF rebels.
"These fresh reports of RUF atrocities underscore the need for the international community to make protection of civilians its first priority in Sierra Leone," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "U.N. forces must aim to expand the circle of protection beyond Freetown as soon as possible."
Soon after taking over 500 U.N. peacekeepers hostage at the beginning of May, the RUF began an offensive action in the Masiaka region. Heavy reinforcements by the United Nations and British troops and a counter-offensive by government-allied militias repulsed the RUF rebels from the Masiaka area around May 14. During its week-long occupation of the area, the RUF committed acts of murder, mutilation, rape, looting, and abduction against the civilian population.
"Kariatu" (not her real name), a forty-five-year-old farmer, told Human Rights Watch that she fled Masiaka town with her four children on May 11, when RUF fighters first attacked the town. On May 12, she was approached by four RUF fighters who asked her where she was going. When she responded she was going to Freetown, one of the RUF fighters responded, "We make sure we kill you before reaching Freetown." The RUF fighters also told her, "Since you civilians are not here for us, we are here to destroy you." The RUF fighters took away her two sons, aged twelve and seventeen, and she heard her sons screaming before hearing gunshots. After evidently killing the two sons, the RUF fighters left with her two daughters, aged eight and ten, and all of the family's possessions. When "Kariatu" tried to beg the fighters to leave her two daughters, they threatened to kill her. "Kariatu" is currently living in a camp for internally displaced near Freetown.
Sixteen-year-old "Ramatu" (not her real name) fled Masiaka on May 12 with her two sisters, aged two and five. On the same day, she was captured by a large group of RUF rebels and taken to a base in the jungle. On the way there she saw five other abducted girls of about the same age. She was kept at the jungle base for five days, where she was gang raped by "many, many men." "Ramatu" told Human Rights Watch that she was pinned down with a knife held to her throat, and was raped while her two young sisters were close by. After one rape, the RUF rebels threatened to amputate her hands. She witnessed the execution by shooting of one young man at the base.
"Ramatu" was allowed to leave the RUF jungle camp on May 17, and while leaving she saw the bodies of the five young girls whom she had last seen alive in RUF captivity. "Ramatu" needed the physical support of her five-year-old sister while walking, because of the pain of the continuous sexual abuse she had suffered. She and her two young sisters had to walk for four days before arriving at a camp for the internally displaced near Freetown.
"Mabinti," aged sixteen, left Masiaka on May 20, fearing the RUF rebels. She walked through back roads far from Masiaka, attempting to flee to safety. The next morning, as it was getting light, she saw a young girl and an older man lying by the road. The hands of the young girl had been cut off, and the older man's right foot had been cut off. Both were still alive, but barely breathing. In great fear, she continued past the bodies without stopping.