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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 15:35 GMT
Leone war crimes tribunal set up
Foday Sankoh (on right)
Rebel leader Foday Sankoh may face trial soon
Mark Doyle

Officials from the United Nations and the Sierra Leone Governemnt have signed an agreement in the capital, Freetown, setting up a war crimes tribunal for the country.

The Yugoslav-style war crimes court will indict those in positions of responsibility during a decade-long war notorious for its brutality against civilians.

At the height of the conflict, thousands of innocent people had their hands chopped off by rebels simply because they supported the elected government.

But although there is a deep desire for justice in Sierra Leone, the timing of the formation of the special court could not have come at a more sensitive time.

Bias?

Most of the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front have given up their guns to the large United Nations peacekeeping force here, and the rebel leaders say they want to participate peacefully in post-war elections to be held in May.

But the imprisoned rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, seems bound to be the main target of the court, because his men committed widespread atrocities against civilians.

Demobilised RUF rebels
Most RUF rebels have now been disarmed
And although the date for the first hearings of the court have yet to be made public, Foday Sankoh's trial is certain to raise the political temperature.

The rebels have already complained that the court is biased against them, and point out quite correctly that many mutinous members of the government army were involved in atrocities against civilians as well.

Details of just who will be indicted are expected to be revealed at a later date.

The Sierra Leone war crimes court will differ from the UN tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda in that this one will have Sierra Leonian judges as well as UN judges sitting on the bench.

See also:

03 Jan 02 | Africa
War crimes court for Sierra Leone
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