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Child Soldier Describes Violence in Sierra Leone to UN - 2001-11-21

A 14-year-old former child soldier has told the United Nations Security Council about his violent experiences with the rebel group in Sierra Leone and the discrimination he still faces.

Alhaji Sawaneh told how, at the age of 10, he was kidnapped by Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone and forced to become a soldier. For two years, he said, he participated in armed attacks, killing people, cutting off people's limbs and burning houses.

In January of 2000, after pressure from U.N. peacekeepers, Alhaji said the rebels released him along with a group of other child soldiers and he was sent to a youth protection agency in Sierra Leone. He has since been in school, although Alhaji said he is still not accepted by many of his peers.

"They look at me differently - like an evil person," he said. "Maybe they have good reason, after all we used to do very horrible things to them, their families, friends and communities. But we suffered just as them because we were forced to do so by our commanders. We now have to ask for forgiveness and demonstrate extremely good ways of life."

Young Alhaji appealed to the United Nations to listen to children and take their words into account. After speaking, Alhaji received a strong round of applause, something that is very unusual in the Security Council.

U.S. representative James Cunningham observed that Alhaji's story confirms that child soldiers become both victims and perpetrators.

British ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said it is important to be reminded that, as with sending peacekeepers to Sierra Leone, actions of the U.N. Security Council affect real people in real ways.

The session ended with the adoption of a comprehensive Council resolution on the impact of armed conflict on children. Among other things, the resolution calls for the rehabilitation of child soldiers, urges nations to ban the use of child soldiers and directs U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to submit a report on the subject within nine months.