HeadLine: Welcome to hell..pure evil fuels this war
The Mirror, 17/03/2001, p16
by SHAUN MILNE, in Freetown, Sierra Leone
FEW Scots soldiers can imagine the horror that awaits them as they are
shipped out to war-torn Sierra Leone.
Even the toughest army training can’t harden the brave soldiers to the
brutal reality of children with limbs missing, machete scars buried
deep in their heads, terror etched on their innocent young face.
Poverty lines the dusty streets in what should be a tropical Bounty bar
But instead of sun-kissed smiles and coconuts, there remains only
tight-lipped fear and machine guns.
Soldiers armed to the teeth patrol daily, manning road blocks every few
The only tourists here are UN squaddies and humanitarian aid groups.
Greetings from the forgotten war.
Welcome to hell.
This faraway world is about to become home for hundreds of brave Scots
troops, some of them parents themselves, who will fly out to the
trouble spot in a few weeks’ time.
They will see the horrendous genocide, the squalor, the fear in the
faces of innocent schoolkids caught up in something they don’t even
All they know is survival.
The Daily Mirror travelled to the West African war zone to investigate
just what awaits the troops from 1st Batallion, The Light Infantry, who
are shipping out to the front line from their Edinburgh base.
What we found was shocking by any standard.
This is not just a war, this is evil. It’s a place where even soldiers
In a dusty shanty town village on the edge of the sprawling capital
Freetown, we stumbled upon a place dubbed Amputee Camp.
Sheltering from the ferocious heat in one of the corrugated iron homes,
we discovered a young mother cradling her baby girl.
First you are enchanted by the infant’s innocent young smile and the
blazing blue eyes staring out at you.
But then you notice there is only open space where her arm should be,
where only a stump remains.
She is nine-months old, but rebel soldiers in the northernmost village
of Hindown hacked off her left arm when she was just 12-weeks.
She is the youngest amputee in the 2,000 strong population of the camp,
demonstrating just how low this weary conflict has sunk.
To her shell-shocked mother Aminata Korona, 29, the very fact her child
Mariatu survives at all is a miracle in itself.
She said: “I love her as if she was perfect. She is my child, I pray
that she gets the help that she needs.”
Aminata struggles to talk about how her baby became so cruelly
mutilated, crying at the vile memory.
But her friends know the story well and recount it for the devastated
Dozens of guerrillas stormed Hindown, setting buildings ablaze and
ordering the terrified villagers to stand in a single line.
Those who fled were killed.
Her friend Willaeu said: “They did what they were told and the soldiers
began hacking them with machetes. The ground flowed red with blood.”
What happened next is perhaps best left in the tears and black memory
which will forever haunt Aminata. For there was no escape for her
Only blessed luck in the form of a UN helicopter arriving soon after
the attack saved tiny Mariatu from certain death.
Three-year-old Muna Mansaruy is yet another child victim to feel the
blade, yet she has a smile so infectious that all around grin too.
She plays with a Barbie doll held in the grip of her stump and beams a
smile of hope to visitors.
Her mum Elizabeth, 23, tells how her own mother died in order to save
the child who, as much as she adores her, only serves as a constant
“My mother ran to save Muna who was hidden in the mosque when the
soldiers came,” said Elizabeth.
“The commander ordered a 12-year old boy to catch her, and he killed
her with a machete as we watched.”
Around 40 per cent of those living in the Murray Camp are amputees.
Although not run by the UN or British Army, it is supported by aid
groups such as MSF and other locals.
Camp chief and president of the Amputee Association, Mucterr Mohammed
Jalloh, 26, had his arm hacked off by rebels during fighting a year
He spent 10-days without treatment while hiding.
“For sure I almost died, but it is a miracle from God that I am here
today to give thanks for that,” he said,
“I met the man who did this to me in the centre of Freetown and he was
very afraid. He offered me money.
“But I said to him, ‘What will money do for me now you have cut my arm
off?’, and he had no answer.
“My brothers would have killed him, but I said no. There has been too
much killing already.”
During the day, Freetown’s streets are a ramshackle traffic jam of
1960s cars against gleaming UN 4x4s.
Amputees and other war victims line up along the roadside, leaning
against trees to smoke and talk.
Many are young men who have lost their legs and women who have been
raped or whose children have been killed.
Seeing the expressions on the faces of battle-hardened British Paras
and Marines shows the affect such sights have on them.
Scots-born Paratrooper Capt Fergus Smith said: “This is not a freak
show – this is real life, real people and they should be afforded that
respect. We must all remember that.”
The 2nd battalion Royal Anglian Regiment and the Royal Irish
spearheaded Britain’s effort in Sierra Leone with the SAS and Paras.
But in little more than a month’s time, it will be the turn of 1st
battalion, The Light Infantry, based at Dreghorn Barracks in Edinburgh.
After a tour in Kenya, they will take over Britain’s military role with
around 250 men posted to the Beguema Training Camp in the south east
jungle near Waterloo.
Around 20 Scots are already out there.
LCpl Brian Milne, 25, from Carnoustie, serves with 30 Signal Regiment
and keeps troops in touch with each other.
LCpl Scott Roberston, from Ayr, has the essential task of making sure
troops can get clean drinking water as well as ensuring there are no
health risks on the camp.
Pte Katie Slade, 26, from St Ninians in Stirling, has been forced to
spend three months away from husband Garret and baby boy Arron, who is
who nine months old.
She serves with the Adjutant General Corps 215 Signals Squadron
providing clerical support.
Major Guy Richardson, of the Royal Scots regiment, will join them next
month as spokesman for the Brigadier in charge.
The 35-year-old married dad of two, from Edinburgh, expects to find it
a harrowing experience.
He said: “Seeing those sorts of things is bound to have an affect, but
we will all just have to get on and go about things as professionally
“I’ve been in the Army for 16 years, but as a father, I know some of it
will bite a lot harder.”
It will be a busy time for the Scot, for not only will he be involved
with the work currently going on, the country is gearing up for its
first democratic elections.
And then there is the matter of having to repel any attacks from the
renegade West Side Boys who have brought so much terror to the local
Maj Richardson said: “We are there to do a job and there is no way we
are going to cow-tow to a bunch of militia’s like the West Side Boys.
“We have been training the Government troops out there for months and
the point will come soon where they will be able to train themselves
and the whole set up will change. That is the whole objective.”
But the infantry troops will find the move from Edinburgh tough. As
well as facing the threat from rebel troops, they arrive in time for
the jungle rainy season.
They will train around 1,000 raw recruits over six weeks when they
arrive, some of whom are rumoured to be given further training from
The camp which will become home is a far cry from the relatively grand
surroundings of Dreghorn.
Crumbling buildings have been patched up following the RUF offensive
against Government troops there in 1998.
An Army spokesman in Sierra Leone said: “It’s not an easy task, but
we’ve done a hell of a good job so far.
“That good work will continue. Our objective is achievable.”
For the sake of the children here in the jungle, and at the amputee
camp, we can only hope that he is right.