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CNN Today

Terror in Sierra Leone

Aired March 22, 2000 - 2:28 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Thirty-four journalists were killed doing their jobs last year, according to an annual report by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Yugoslavia and Colombia accounted for a total of 11 of those deaths. But the most deadly assignment was the civil war in Sierra Leone. Ten journalists died there last year, almost all of them in January '99, as rebels hunted down and killed reporters to prevent them from telling about the atrocities there.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: What those journalist had to report was, indeed, horrific and before the 8-year civil war in the West African country ended, the Revolutionary United Front waged a brutal campaign against the civilian population.

CNN's Jim Clancy reports from the capital. And we caution, the images are disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a camp in Freetown, civilians forced from their home by Sierra Leone's civil war wait to return. Almost 400 of those who are here carry wounds from the senseless cruelty that shocked the world. Arms, legs and ears cut off by rebel soldiers, as part of a campaign of terror against civilians.

Like virtually all the others, Lansana Sesay remembers vividly the day rebels told him he and other innocent civilians would be punished as a message to the government.

LANSANA SESAY: Want me to cut your hands. I said, he doesn't want the peace. We came from Tutsi, there was no process for peace. And now we are going to cut your hands off.

So they laid my hand, with a very new ax, and thump with my left hand. I begged them, I say leave this one hand. They said, no, we will cut both your hands. So both my hands, they are cut off.

CLANCY: Katayatu Fofona (ph) lost both of her legs, and struggles now to feed, clothe and educate her nine children. Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front was publicly demanding free universal education.

School teacher Sara Mamadu Tarawalli (ph) says that doesn't explain why rebel bullets cost him his leg or why school children were often singled out to have legs or arms hacked to stumps.

In a disarmament and demobilization camp, former RUF fighters say the tactic of amputations was used to strike fear into people here, and around the world, to, in his words, "make the war fearful."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To make the war very fearful. There are the things that make the whole to turn -- to focus their mind to Sierra Leone, and then they call for peace.

CLANCY: The RUF rebels are adamant they are not the only ones who committed atrocities. They say their allies, the AFRC, are also guilty, as are the civil defenses forces, known as the Camasures (ph). And the rebels blame the West African peacekeepers of Ecomog for destruction and killing as well. The victims agree, all sides committed atrocities, but they staunchly defend the Ecomog peacekeepers as their saviors.

MUCTARR JALLOH: Ecomog saved most of us. Ecomog saved the entire Sierra Leone. That is excellent. Every one will pray for the Nigerians, the New Guineans, the Ghanians, the Malians.

CLANCY: With the slow pace of the peace process in Sierra Leone, the survivors of the conflict are asking for international help to rebuild their lives, provide for their families, and return to their homes. So much of what they want depends on whether the politicians and the peacekeepers can succeed in making that peace process work.

Jim Clancy, CNN, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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