This is a nation of husbands who have seen their wives executed and their children's hands chopped off

Alex Duval Smith, one of the few journalists in Sierra Leone since Freetown was invaded, hears the tales of horror from the victims of a senseless war

SPENT CARTRIDGES litter the entrance to Freetown's Connaught Hospital. They make a clinking sound as you walk. Inside, bodies litter the floor. Alive, or dying from machete or bullet wounds, the bodies groan.

Children call out "mamma" and women plead "sister" - the sight of a white woman denotes hope. And as I hold my pen to my notebook and look into a pair of pleading eyes, I realise that it is not a hand that is being held up to me, but a bloody bandaged stump on the end of a newly mutilated arm.

They arrived here by the truckload in the early hours of yesterday - children and women, mostly, from the poor districts of eastern Freetown. They are the victims of retreating killers in a country that is high on the adrenalin of violence.

The Nigerian-led intervention force, Ecomog, has just retaken most of the capital city from the Revolutionary United Front rebels, who are fighting to remove the democratic government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.

The rebels - they are known as such but are merely a ragbag of poisoned men - have been mutilating Sierra Leonean peasants for 18 months. But never until now have the citizens in Freetown been given the "long or short-sleeve" treatment - the choice of where your arm will be severed. The RUF knows only how to destroy, so as it flees it destroys whatever it can.

Andrew Caulker, aged 29, from Wellington, eastern Freetown, lies on one of the Connaught's rare hospital tables, his head bandaged. "I am a Jehovah's Witness, perhaps that is why they put a machete in my head and my arm," he said.

No one here understands what - apart from drugs and depravity - motivates the killers, many of them said to be children, to butcher their victims.

Mohammed Fofana, from Kissy, eastern Freetown, arrived with his four- year-old son, Abdul. "They came the day before yesterday. They killed my wife, Masiril Jabbie, by shooting her in the head and they shot Abdul in the thigh.

"Later they came back and burnt the house down. They said it was because we were supporters of Ecomog. I do not support anyone. I just want to save my life," said Mr Fofana.

Troops from Ecomog - the 15,000-strong West African intervention force - were bringing in injured people by the truckload yesterday, as they secured pockets of eastern Freetown. Major Kaya Tanko, heading the Ecomog strike force, said: "We have secured 50 per cent of the eastern end of the city but our problem is the hills above Kissy. The rebels are hiding there. They come down at night to attack civilians and loot and burn their homes."

The Connaught Hospital yesterday received medical supplies - thought to be from a 3.3 tonne shipment from Britain - including saline drips, antibiotics and bandages.

Dr Jibao Sandy - one of 20 physicians treating the thousands of injured - said: "We need more of everything. We also need doctors. We are doing bullet extractions on the spot. We do not even have enough antibiotics and bandages. We have not slept for two days.

"For two weeks before that, we worked for the rebels, at gunpoint. When they invaded Freetown on 6 January, they killed all the existing patients to make room for their own injured," said Dr Sandy.

In this sick conflict, the world is standing by, and the Royal Navy frigate HMS Norfolk, moored in Aberdeen Bay, is the most visible example.

The Royal Marines come ashore from time to time to assess what is going on in this diamond-rich former British colony. But they have decided to let Nigeria, aided by white mercenaries and the pro- Kabbah Kamajor militia, "finish the job" of flushing the rebels out of Freetown.

"Normally, in war, you give the enemy an escape route," a Royal Marine commando observed yesterday. "The Nigerians are not doing that," he added with apparent approval.

Today, a transport plane from the Department for International Development is due to arrive in Lungi, north of Freetown, with a cargo of unspecified aid.

What is not needed, despite reports to the contrary, is food. Rice and greens are on sale in the streets of Freetown. Even fish is returning - despite an Ecomog ban imposed due to fears of rebel arms shipments.

What is needed, however, is medicine and surgeons. Most of the world's charities, including the Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontieres have fallen out with Ecomog after it accused them of lending communications equipment to the rebels. There are no foreign doctors in town and the British shipment of medical supplies appears to have been virtually used up.

Most of all though, Sierra Leone needs the world to remember - for a long time to come - that this is a nation of husbands who have seen their wives executed in front of them and their children's hands chopped off.

Two doors up from the Connaught, the nurses' school has been transformed into a mortuary or, rather, a body dump. It is full - 1,140 bodies had been delivered when the counting stopped four days ago.

Yesterday, by the door - amid an overwhelming stench of butchery - lay the bloated corpse of a headless man whose legs had been gnawed to the bone, presumably by dogs and vultures.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MBDA UK Ltd: Electronic Sub-System Design Verification engineer

Flexible working, annual bonus, pension & more.: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the oppor...

MBDA UK Ltd: Test Systems Architect

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? MBDA has e...

MBDA UK Ltd: Test Systems Design Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity?MBDA has en...

MBDA UK Ltd: PCB Technologies Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity?MBDA has en...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor