UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Rebel gangs in Sierra Leone are again looting villages, burning houses, raping women and mutilating civilians in northern areas, despite a peace accord six months ago, U.N. monitors reported.
The human rights officers, part of a 6,000-member U.N. peacekeeping operation, released a report on Tuesday of a Jan. 20 visit to Port Loko and other areas formerly held by rebels in the country's Northern Province.
Two U.N. experts said security had deteriorated in recent weeks following a New Year's lull they attributed to U.N. peacekeeping patrols and payments to demobilized fighters.
''There have been almost daily reports of looting of villages, house burnings, harassment and abductions of civilians, rape and sexual abuse,'' U.N. monitors James Rodehaver and Maarit Kohonen said in the report.
Some 2,000 rebels were reported to have looted a dozen villages north and south of Port Loko as well as other areas in the northwestern area and then kidnapped people gathering wood, water or food in isolated fields.
Raped And Enslaved
Men were forced to do manual labor while girls were often raped and told to cook and clean for the rebels. Some of the victims were badly beaten and at least one was mutilated.
The U.N. human rights experts attributed the abuses to followers of Foday Sankoh, leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which is now in the government, and his ally, former junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma.
A peace accord was signed last July by the rebels and the government in the tiny West African country. It was to end an eight-year civil war marked by extraordinary brutality that included mass killings of civilians, gang-rapes of young girls and amputation of limbs and other body parts.
The U.N. monitors cited a Jan. 16 attack by two rebels against Fofanah Sesay at his house in Karenah, a village five miles from Port Loko.
The armed men severely bit Sesey's ears, nose and around his right eye. ''He lost his left ear and both his nose and right ear were badly mauled,'' the report said.
No Services For Women Victims
In a visit to a camp for the uprooted and the homeless, the human rights monitors said there were hardly any medical or psychological services to care for women who had been raped or contracted HIV/AIDS in the process.
''Cases of rape-related pregnancy are so frequent that they cannot be counted,'' the experts were told by health workers.
Some young women were reported to have felt compelled to marry their abductors, most likely because of stigmatization from their families, the threat of violence and pregnancies.
In a visit to Kabala, northeast of Port Loko, another human rights officer said systematic kidnappings and rapes had subsided but security remained ''highly volatile.'' A large number of disarmed rebels were harassing civilians as they roamed around in search of food and shelter.
In some RUF-controlled areas, the rebels regularly demanded ''taxes'' from villagers in the form of rice, cattle and money.
The U.N. report substantiated similar findings released last week by the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
The United Nations is fielding a peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone that is expected to be increased to 10,000 troops but disarmament of some 45,000 guerrillas, due to have been completed on Dec. 15, is well behind schedule.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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