FREETOWN, Sierra Leone -- Moments before the rebels were going to kill Ishmael Dramane, a 9-year-old boy cradling a machine gun saved his life.
"He told his commander that they have a lot of people to kill, and they didn't have to kill an old man," said Dramane, who at 42 is already long past middle age in this West African nation ravaged by poverty and war.
The rebels argued about what they should do. Then they voted. Three years later, Dramane, an itinerant miner and truck driver, still struggles to find the words to describe what they then did to him that day in a jungle village in eastern Sierra Leone.
Instead, he kneels in the dirt of the Freetown camp for war victims where he now lives. He shows how the rebels tied his wrists behind his back and how he obediently placed his hands on a small bench. He knew what was coming. They'd told him what they were going to do.
Then, he says, one picked up a machete and chopped off both his hands.
Laughing, the group left him in the dirt, blood pouring from his forearms as he screamed in agony. It took him 12 hours to reach a hospital.