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.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

C# Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, MVC-4, HTML5) London

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Web Develop...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution