Sierra Leone rebels suspected of slaughter in Guinea

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The Independent Online

The weekend killings of up to 70 civilians in Guinea - whose large territory wraps around Sierra Leone and Liberia - prompted new fears yesterday that the impact of brutal rebel activity is spreading across borders in the diamond-rich west African region.

The weekend killings of up to 70 civilians in Guinea - whose large territory wraps around Sierra Leone and Liberia - prompted new fears yesterday that the impact of brutal rebel activity is spreading across borders in the diamond-rich west African region.

Government sources in Guinea's capital, Conakry, claimed at the weekend that "unidentified gunmen" had staged raids on three settlements in the Macenta area, near the country's border with Liberia. The government, which faces elections at the end of next month, has recently clamped down on refugees from the fighting in Sierra Leone and Liberia - said to number 500,000 - who are deeply unpopular in impoverished Guinea.

While the identity of the gunmen who staged the raid is not known, observers believe the recent Guinean clampdown on refugees has heightened tension in all border areas.

Liberia claims Guinea is overly tolerant of rebel organisers. It claims they plan their cross-border raids from within the safety of Guinean refugee camps. Guinea says Liberia's rebel-refugees have exported their war.

The government of Sierra Leone - which is protected against rebels by a British military mission and some 13,000 United Nations soldiers - wants more peacekeepers to be sent to the region, specifically to police the borders of the increasingly tense triangle of countries. On Saturday during a visit to Liberia, Sierra Leone's Vice-President, Albert Joseph Denby, said the 16-member Economic Community of West Africa was "working on" plans for a force to guard the borders.

Crucially, it could mark the first effective initiative to isolate the thriving diamondsfor-arms trade which is the key to the nine-year war in Sierra Leone and the instability throughout the region. The weekend raids - which according to Guinean sources happened after nightfall on Friday at settlements named as Khoryama, N'delenou and Macarbou - are just the latest evidence that the three west African countries are increasingly at the mercy of ruthless rebel warlords who, in their search for wealth, prefer anarchy to democracy.

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