Sierra Leone 'Helped Deploy Ex-Child Soldiers to Iraq', Academic Says

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London — Sierra Leone's government helped British private security service firms recruit former child soldiers to work as guards in Iraq from 2009, said a Danish academic who has spent years investigating the issue.

Thousands of children were forced to fight in Sierra Leone's 11-year civil war, which ended in 2002. More than 50,000 people were killed in the fighting and many tens of thousands more mutilated or raped by rebels.

By 2009, with Iraq in chaos, impoverished Sierra Leone was looking for a way to engage its workforce, said Maya Mynster Christensen, a researcher at the Danish Institute Against Torture who made repeated trips to the West African country.

"From a Sierra Leone government perspective the recruitment was supposedly quite a good deal because it could take the local troublemakers and send them to Iraq for a couple of years," the anthropologist told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"The government returned the men, many of them now in their late twenties and thirties, with money earned on their overseas deployment," she said.

But Christensen said this ran counter to Sierra Leone's stated policy of demobilisation following the civil war.

Of the 72,500 combatants demobilised by January 2002, nearly 10 percent were children, according to the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF.

A spokesman for Sierra Leone's government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"SLAVERY"

Christensen's allegations appear in a new Danish-made documentary, "The Child Soldier's New Job", which reveals that thousands of ex-soldiers were re-assigned to private security contractors in Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation cannot verify how many of those recruited to Iraq were once child combatants, but in the documentary those who were deployed described feeling awe-struck on arrival in the war-torn country.

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