Letter: Africa's agony

Sir: I thought the Alex Duval Smith article about the conflict in Sierra Leone was compassionate in a Graham Greene-esque sort of way but not serious about the political situation in this horrific war. This is a democratically elected government and its electorate trying to defend its capital city from an army of well-armed and sadistic thugs.

I am in telephone contact with people still living in Freetown who tell me about the atrocities they have witnessed or heard about: whole families massacred in the process of looting; children and adults having their hands and arms chopped off; rape, it goes without saying; schools and hospitals burnt down. Many people have been without food for days and live in constant terror.

In my naivety I imagined that the West would be concerned about the fate of democratic government in Africa. England in particular "owes" Sierra Leone. The relationship is a long and intricate one. And what about the UN? Why do they appear to be washing their hands of this? Might it have something to do with the fact that Sierra Leone is of no strategic importance? Has no oil? Is already one of the poorest countries on earth?