Even in a region that has known considerable turmoil, Sierra Leone stands out. The United Nations has named it the least developed and least livable country in the world—a sad irony for a nation that is endowed with large deposits of gold and diamonds. But then, it was in large part a struggle for control of those resources that fueled some 10 years of conflict between corrupt officials, rebel insurgents and renegade government soldiers.
Although its years of civil war and anarchy show signs of having ended with recent peaceful elections, the toll has been enormous. During most of the fighting, the country's rich mineral deposits either were left untapped—or were controlled by rebels who used the profits to buy weapons. Reports of atrocities committed by the rebels include mutilations, rapes and conscription of children. Thousands of civilians died in the fighting, and hundreds more perished trying to escape the country in flimsy boats. Entire cities have been devastated. Some rebuilding has begun, but Sierra Leone faces a long period of recovery before it will be a welcoming destination again.
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