West Africa's civil rights
For more than a decade, the West African countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone have been roiled by civil conflicts that have caused millions to flee their homes and left up to 200,000 dead. Even as the fighting has systematically destroyed the two countries' economies, infrastructures, and social institutions, the interlinked conflicts have spilled across borders, drawing in neighboring Guinea and raising tensions in Cote d'Ivoire.
Today, Sierra Leone is emerging from more than ten years of civil war between the government and a Liberian-backed rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Under the protection of a 17,000-member peacekeeping force (the UN Mission in Sierra Leone, or UNAMSIL), the country completed a disarmament and demobilization program in January 2002 and conducted peaceful elections in May.
Neighboring Liberia, however, remains wracked by fighting between a rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the government of Charles Taylor, a former rebel fighter who assumed the presidency in a flawed 1997 election process.
As Sierra Leone attempts to rebuild its shattered society, repatriate hundreds of thousands of uprooted people, and reintegrate some 70,000 ex-combatants, the arrival since January 2002 of at least 30,000 new refugees from Liberia is draining resources from reintegration efforts and threatening Sierra Leone's fragile peace.
A four-week site visit by the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) to the region's four affected countries--Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Cote d'Ivoire--yielded a complex portrait of the problems faced by uprooted people across the region, as well as the challenges posed to the international community in helping restore peace and stability to the Uprooted Liberians often find themselves on the front lines of their country's civil war, forced to move to successive locations within the country to avoid the fighting.
Feimata, 19, fled...