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Conflict in Sierra Leone

After slavery was abolished in England in 1772, many of the slave ships were intercepted and sent to Freetown in Sierra Leone. The country remained under British rule until 1961.

Years of corruption followed the end of British rule in 1961 and a powerful elite ruled from the capital while the rest of the country remained in poverty. Sierra Leone had rich diamond mines.

The rural poor grew increasingly resentful. When the rebel movement, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), was created there was no shortage of recruits.

The RUF leader, who was trained by the British army, formed an alliance with Liberian rebel militia leader Charles Taylor, who was the president of Liberia until 2003. The alliance launched the war in 1991. The United Nations (UN) placed sanctions on the sale of diamonds from Sierra Leone, as the diamonds were being smuggled through Liberia to fund the RUF.

In 1998, Sierra Leone's government was restored to power after a military coup in 1997. Fighting continued during this time, until a UN peacekeeping force secured the capital Freetown in 2000.

The violent civil war saw nearly half the country's 4.5 million people displaced. A further 500,000 people were believed to be displaced in neighbouring countries. At least 50,000 people died in the fighting. An estimated 100,000 were victims of mutilation, as rebels would often cut off people's limbs rather than kill them.

Peace was finally declared in January 2002, but sporadic fighting continues. The country remains one of the poorest in the world.