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Why Fred gave his all for Sierra Leone

Avinesh Gopal
Tuesday, April 02, 2013

FRED Marafono picked up the armless child who followed him in the streets of Freetown and held her in one arm.

Looking at the British Broadcasting Commission (BBC) cameraman and reporter who arrived in war-torn Sierra Leone in 1999 to document its state of affairs and the plight of the people, he motioned them over.

"See this little girl. What has she done to anyone to deserve such treatment? What has she done?"

Nothing had prepared the battle-hardened warrior for the scale of atrocities he witnessed in Sierra Leone where he first arrived in 1994 as security personnel for Golden Star Resources, only to quit one year later to join Executives Outcomes, a South African multi-racial military company that was engaged by the ruling junta to help stop the rebel advance.

The amputation of limbs was the barbaric calling card of the Revolutionary United Front, which took over diamond mines that fuelled its war.

Males and females, young and the old were all targeted indiscriminately, the victims given a choice of long sleeve or short sleeve amputations. In brutal terms, this gave people the choice to be cut at the wrist or above the elbow.

Executive Outcomes, made up of about 200 former special forces veterans, trained the Sierra Leone army and cleared out the capital Freetown, bringing elections and democracy. It was shortlived when Executives Outcome's contract was terminated. The private army left and fighting resumed.

Fred and two other former members of Executive Outcomes found it hard to leave the people to defend themselves.

They offered their services to the government and worked for free.

Fred, who was 59 when the BBC shot the documentary which helped change Britain's view on Sierra Leone and stand in the conflict, kept a copy of it.

When he came home for the last time in 2011, he gave his namesake and nephew a copy and told him they'd understand why he made the choice to sacrifice all he had to risk his life in that country.

Marafono Junior and family treasure the footage that their hero signed and left behind.

They understand why Fred did what he did.

"These are the people fighting to exist with little assistance from the outside world," he told the BBC team that flew on Fred's missions. "And that is the tragedy.

"They are fighting to keep their country and when you see the type of people they are fighting against and what they have to fight with, you cannot help but get involved.

"What we are doing here is not a mercenary's job. It is a good Samaritan's job."

Since 1991 when the RUF launched its attacks across the country, there were thousands of victims of mutilations, burning, rape and other atrocities.

More than half a million fled across the borders and one million displaced from their homes within the borders during the rebels' reign of terror.

Using child soldiers — some kidnapped from villages raided by the RUF, drugged, brainwashed and trained into killing merciless machines — the rebels left a scar on this man from Pepjei in Rotuma.

While the men who fought back to defend their homes were hacked to death, those who did not die suffered amputations. The women and children were raped.

Village after village, town after town the rebels torched homes and repeated the unthinkable on human beings. Fred was determined help Regent Chief Sam Hinga Norman, a former British Army soldier himself, protect the people.

"I helped bring democracy to Sierra Leone," he told the crowd and the BBC.

"I was the only British that fought here. My name is Fred Marafono."

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