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Although Freetown is relatively stable, Amnesty International researchers in the country are receiving reports of continuing human rights abuses in areas of Sierra Leone controlled by rebel forces or where there are hostilties between government and rebel forces. The abuses include arbitrary killings, rape and sexual abuse .

The organisation is calling on the UK Government to pursue a long-term strategy of human rights protection throughout Sierra Leone.

Mark Lattimer, Communications Director of Amnesty International UK, said:

'There is little doubt that Britain's support for the United Nations peacekeeping mission has saved countless lives. Without long-term protection the fear is that there will be a catastrophic return to atrocious abuse of civilians by rebel forces.'

Urgent concerns are:

Mass human rights abuses against civilians: The UN peacekeeping mission (UNAMSIL) should be provided with a clear mandate to protect the human rights of all civilians at all times, not just those under imminent threat of physical violence. UNAMSIL, British and Nigerian troops, the Sierra Leonean Army (SLA) and pro-government militias should observe international human rights law and international humanitarian law at all times.

The UK Government should maintain its vital support for UNAMSIL for as long as Sierra Leonean civilians are in danger, while ensuring that UK weapons and training go only to pro-government forces with a clean human rights record.

Child solders: Britain should use its influence to end the use of child soldiers in Sierra Leone by pro-government forces - including by linking its planned £20 million programme to train and arm the SLA to stringent safeguards. Arms must not fall into under-age hands. The UK should itself sign up to this year's international agreement to ban the use of under-18s in armed conflict.

Justice and accountability: Failure to address impunity has contributed to the current crisis. The UK government should press for an international commission of inquiry to investigate human rights abuses and bring perpetrators to justice. The UK Government should quickly ratify the International Criminal Court treaty to expedite the creation of a permanent court to try those suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Diamonds: The trade in diamonds from rebel-held areas of Sierra Leone should be prevented as this trade is financing the purchase of arms and equipment used to commit human rights violations.

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