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Our writings section features stories addressing the issue of ChildSoldiers written by youth in Sierra Leone

Live Account of Child Soldier Experience with the Rebels

by Ernest Foday Mannah Services Secondary School, Juba Barracks, Freetown

My name is Ernest Foday Mannah, and a student of the Services Secondary School. I am now 16 years old and this is my true story.

I was born in Kailahun in the Eastern provincial town of Sierra Leone which was the cradle of the rebel war in Sierra Leone. The rebels had first made their base and stronghold in the outskirts of this kailahun District called Koindu, that borders Sierra Leone and Liberia.

In 1991, when the rebels first attacked kailahun, that was at the same time the war began, my friends and I were captured by the rebels. I was just 8 years old then. There were awful signs that they will attack our township. They eventually came at a time we did not epect, and I was captured at a playing field together with my playmates and friends. There was no moment o see my family and grand mother.

Just as we were caught by the rebels, they instantly seperated us so that we were given to different commandos, as the rebel leaders were called. I was assigned to the command of a fierce rebel leader called 'Black Jesus'. His was a Bukini by nationality, which means that he and others were hired as mercenaries. My friends were destined to be sent to another village far off from where I was held captive.

Pays later I heard that two of my captured friends have already died. I did not stop to think what means they faced their death. I wept seriously, and I could not put back the tears that streamed from my eyes. I felt instantly that I shall be the next to die. The 'commando' had to give me words of encouragement and I later partially calmed down. A week after, the commando decided to send me on a mission as spy. My risky role was to spy at the position of the Government Soldiers about three miles off the rebel's base. I had no power to reject this command and had to abide and went on this deadly mission. I was told that if I do not return, I my entire family, which the rebels and their commando claimed to know all too well, will be killed. I dearly loved my grandma, and sisters and had no intention to loose them for my own safety.

On arriving at the Government base, I was accosted by at the Government Military Garrison by a soldier who manned a check point. I was halted and by this army personel who interrogated me vigorously about my whereabouts and where I was heading to. I begab to clry even though the officer pretended not to mean any harm. I had to lie that I was a pupil andjust roaming to find some food for my family trapped beind rebel lines, hiding in the bush. I told the military man that we have gon for more than a week without food, and my youngest sister will hardly endure, let alone my grandma. He immediately felt pity for me and gave me some of his rations of food that he hoped will help to sustain me.

When I felt composed to speak further, I told him that they must try very hard to get rid of the rebels as the people are really suffering in the bush, having abandoned their homes. He told me in confidence that their was no need for me to worry as they have a determination to carry out an operation to flush out the rebels within a week. I had to later tell him that I ought to leave and see my family. He gave me an additional two packages of food from their rations to sustain us for some time. I had courage to inquire about his name before I left. He said when ever I wanted to see him, I must just ask his colleagues for a man called 'Scorpion'.

I left my friend and returned to the rebels base. On arrival, the rebels told me I did not carry out their assignment of spying for them. That I must say the fact or else they will killed me. They further threatened that one of my family members have already been killed. I showed the rebels the food which was given to me as a sign that I actually made it to the opposing camp of the government troops. I even told them that after speaking with a military officer, he confided to me that they will launch an attack within a week. On hearing this crucial news, the rebel commandos immediately summoned a meeting in which I was forced to witness. It was in that meeting that I was made a Special Task Force Commander heading the spying force comprising mainly children. The rebel Field Commander incharge of the entire rebel-held Koindu base was instantly summoned.

This rebel Field Commander, a woman was asked to come prepared, meaning to come along with lots of ammunitions. The ammunitions arrived but we did not see her. The ammunitons were sent together with about hundred fighting rebels who were not part of the Kailahun rebels, so as to reinforce their ranks. When I saw these ammunition, my mind strucked me in different angles. Firstly, I thought of my friends who had been killed, then myself, my life, my friend the soldier who gave me food, and last though not least, my family. I thus planned for the worse. I must escape!

At about 2:00 Pm, I attempted escaping but it was a wrong judgement. I was captured, given severe beating with hands tied behind my back. Then they took me to 'the blasphemous 'Black Jesus' who further gave me severe trashing. I was beaten to a point of weakness that I thought I will finally die. I was further tied to a branch of an ant-infested tree, with head down and feet upwards. I stayed for about two hours in that painful up-side-down posture. Then the woman whom everyone was waiting for arrived in Kailahun! She inquired who brought the information about the planned military attack. 'Black Jesus' pointed at the tree where I was hung and had to tell her that I planned to escape in the afternoon. The woman approached me where I was being purnished and had to command Black Jesus to released me. I was untied and dropped down like a fruit from it's branch. My head was whirling but noticed that the woman's private part was adorned with animal skin that had an dare's horn tied to it. At his back, she had a similar animal skin, an egg to cover her buttocks. She spoke with me briefly, and I explained as I did to the rebels. She asked 'Black Jesus' permission that I must stay with her. She led me to a place where I underwent some treatment. I was left to spend the rest of the night at her place.

In the mornng hours, five rebel body guards were ask to be by my side, watching me closely. They were all children, well armed to the teeth. As special task force training was underway, the guards and I roamed and patrolled in the sorrounding area to detect any possible movement of enemies.

On the third day within that week, noticing the serious training that the rebels undertook, I made up my mind to make another escape. Indeed, I sensed how deadly it will be. Even with the body guards, I ask black Jesus' permission for three body guards to accompany me to a small village to know what the junior men I have asssigned to the region along Guinea border were doing their work. It was in that area that my grandma, brothers and sisters have escaped to and gone hiding.

I was given the go ahead. On reaching the place, I spoke secretly with my grandma to leave the place immediately, as their were bad plans of rebel attacks. I secretly gave her some money to use whilst escaping.

I asked the children who were my body guaards that we must see some other men in the next village. It was unknowing to them that I was planning to escape with them all. Two miles away from the rebel zones, I ordered them to handover their weapons to me. One of the children asked me why and was defiant. I told him that we are close to the government soldiers and it is not advisable to hold weapons. One of the boys instantly decided to put me under gun-point. This particular boy was not a native of Kailahun, whilst the other two boys and I were from the same town. These two boys decided to inturn put this offensive child under gun point. I have to walk towards him and said that 'you are a little boy and you need to go to school, your parents have all been killed, and your future will be awful if you continue to hold these gun'. The defiant child and the two others handed me their guns and I threw them in the bush. I kept a small pistol hidden in my pocket , for I had in mind that one of them will be tempted to escape back to the rebels and lick out our secret of escape. In an attempt, I will break the feet of any one who dares to escape.

We reached at the government soldier's base, and at the post of the soldier who gave me his food ration. We were instantly held because the boys were so much in panic. We were beaten serious and called spies, and that we must speak out. I requested for scopion the soldier who gave me the food. I stressed that even if I was beaten to death, I will say nothing until Scopion was around. I had of course already informed the boys before our arrival that they must keep mute and say nothing. The captain (P.L. Foday), requested the presence of 'scopion', to know why I have stressed about his presence. At last scopion came, from a mile and half away from the other post. When I saw scopion, I sighed with hopes that he will not stand by and allowed his colleagues to kill us. The boss (P.L. Foday), then asked me to say what I planned to say in the presence of scopion. I explained now that the rebels had captured us but we escaped, and that they had plans to attack the Government soldiers two days before their own week's plan of engaging them. I spoke of the terrific weapons in the possession of the rebels, like machine guns and RPG, greenaded launcher, etc. I mapped out the route they planned to take. This convinced the leader of the batallion to release us and made preparations immediately. He called for military and man power reinforcement at once. We asked them to join us in the combat against the rebels and they accepted. We were given a day's hectic training to know how to dismantle a weapon, fix it up, aim and shoot neatly. Our measurements were taken in preparation for military fatigues to be given us. The uniforms and boots were brought immediately, and the four of us dressed up to join the battle for liberation of our land. We requested for four 'magazine' and were given sub machine guns, {SMG}, as our personal rifle. The captainasked all of us to be assembled and went on to address mostly his government military men. He turned to us with a special warning that if we decide to play any trick with them, we will certainly die. That was on the forth day of the week, in which we were ask to be on stand-by. At eight p.m, we were bound to leave for the battle at hand, with 80 men. Their were 100 military men who will follow the 80 men with whom we were assigned. The 100 men will have to stop at the place where we should lay the ambush. Three of us children were with the group of 80 soldiers, whilst one of us the boy who placed me under gun point was assigned with the group of 100 soldiers.

We reached the point where we should make the ambush at about 9 p.m, and layed the ambush of a full moon. At about 10 p.m the rebels appeared and fell within the range of our full moon ambush. We did n't make a single sound, or any noise so far. We overheard them making confusion amongst themselves, indecisive as to whom should lead the different patrol groups comprising some 40 rebels per group. At 2 a.m, in the morning we decided to lanch our attack, firstly by sending a glowing tracer splashing light in the air. This made us to see the rebel's position clearly and so began to launch heavy weapons n their directions, namely; RPG and greenade launcher. In a 3 hours battle, we overpowered them , leaving so many dead whilst a hand full of their remnant forces fled for cover, cursing and swearing as they ran for their lives. At 5 a.m we went with Government troop and moved towards Kailahun with 150 strong soldiers. At about 6 a.m, we again laid a half moon ambush, half a mile off the point where the first battle took place. The remaining number of government soldiers were asked to retreat half a mile to the base in a bid to protect it from any by-passing rebel troops.

The rebels approached us with a strong force having gone to reinforce after their first defeat. We patiently allowed the rebels to enter well within the half-moon ambush before we began launching our heavy artillaries. 50 men chased them, whilst the remainder 100 menwent towards their main base, cutting them off completely. It was during this time that one of the children who had escaped with me from the rebels, had to face his death. He was fired in the heat of the battle. I had to cry for the death of this boy, and what came to mind was that if I don't fight hard, I shall be the next victim. About half an hour later the government forces succeeded in pushing the rebels towords Kailahun. 15 big rebels were then captured together with 3 child rebels, not mentioning all the rebels who died in battle. On our side, we lost six soldiers including the boy, amounting to 7. A fitting and respectable burial was given to these dead soldiers including the little boy. 21 gunshots were fired in the air as a sign of respect for these dead warriors.

The following morning, we retreated back to our base, Because we had already ran out of ammunitions. The government soldiers were now in total control. In this state of victory, I was bestowed a title 'Las Corporal', Captain P.L Foday, in a special ceremony of military parades and marshal. This is a kind appeal to super powers of the world to stop rebel movements in Africa, and bring to justice all the rebel leaders who have contributed to so much blood shed in this continient....

(I shall continue in the next issue to narrate how I became known amongst several batallions in different parts of the country, because of my skillful role played as a child-soldier). I shall also recount myfeelings for living amongst rebels in details having no access to family and friends, treated like a beast.)

By: Ernest Foday Mannah
Services Secondary School, Juba Barracks, Freetown.

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