Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Letter from Sierra Leone: Sierra Leone: people displaced because of diamonds

BMJ 1994; 309 doi: (Published 20 August 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:523
  1. H Veeken
  1. Medecins sans Frontieres, PO Box 1001, 1001 EA Amsterdam, Netherlands.

    People from the south east of Sierra Leone are fleeing their homes in large numbers - frightened by violence. Since the military overthrew the government in 1992 the violence has increased. No one is sure who is carrying out the attacks, but the motive is clear: the area is a good source of diamonds. Although the camps for displaced people are generally well organised, there is a shortage of clean water and medical staff and supplies and Medecins sans Frontieres is planning to offer help. The fighting may be difficult to end, however; even children are being recruited as soldiers by the government.

    “Too many,” the waitress answers firmly. While waiting for my host to arrive I am trying to find out the number of inhabitants in Sierra Leone. The waitress seems to blush as she realises that I'm not satisfied with the answer and asks a colleague for help . “It is so difficult, sir; everyday there are more,” she answers. I left the small survey at that. I had arrived in Sierra Leone that night. The stories of Sierra Leone had reached me in Liberia, a country neighbouring Sierra Leone, and they had made me decide to reschedule my trip to see whether Medecins sans Frontieres could help.

    “It is diamonds and violence that rule the country,” my host, a European embassy official, tells me when he joins me at the dinner table. “Take this map of the country and you see how diamonds and violence overlap.” He points to the south east of the country, where the main mining towns such as Kenema and Koino are located. “Yesterday a diamond worth $3 million was dug up,” he says. The map is covered with dots and dates where he has meticulously marked the dates of attacks. “Where there …

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