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Thursday, 28 March, 2002, 22:40 GMT
Sankoh barred from poll
Sankoh (r) with his civilian captors shortly before he was turned in to authorities in Sierra Leone
Foday Sankoh (right) was arrested in May 2000
Sierra Leone's imprisoned former rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, has been refused permission to run for president in the forthcoming elections.

"As far as I know, he is not a registered voter and according to the country's laws, this prevents one from being presented as a presidential candidate," election commissioner Walter Nicol said on Thursday.

We respect and honour [Sankoh] despite the many lies being said about him

RUFP spokesman Eldred Collins

The Revolutionary United Front Party was officially registered to contest the 14 May general elections on Wednesday.

Mr Sankoh is currently facing murder charges in a Sierra Leone court and may also be charged by a United Nations tribunal in connection with atrocities carried out by members of the RUF during the 10-year civil war.

"Sankoh's name is not on the provisional voters' list. We have not registered any detainee or prisoners," Mr Nicol said.

Peacekeepers

Meanwhile the United Nations Security Council has voted unanimously to keep peacekeepers in the country for another six months to ensure a strong international presence during the elections.

Foday Sankoh's bodyguard opening fire
Sankoh's bodyguards opened fire on unarmed demonstrators

Some 17,000 peacekeepers are currently based in Sierra Leone.

The RUF has not yet reacted to the ban on its former leader, but on Wednesday RUFP spokesman Eldred Collins described the party's registration as "a big, big development".

"As you know, we are fighting a cause," he said. "We are now recognised as a full-fledged party and we can now speak from a political platform. We are trying to play an enabling environment free of corruption, nepotism, tribalism."

But Mr Collins added that the RUFP members would always consider Mr Sankoh to be their leader.

"We respect and honour him despite the many lies being said about him," he said.

"We believe that one day he will get out of prison."

Mr Sankoh was arrested in May 2000 after his bodyguards sprayed bullets at unarmed demonstrators, killing around 20 people.

Re-election

Sierra Leone's Government has said he will face the death penalty if convicted.

But he may be retried by a special court that lacks the power to administer the death penalty.

The court was set up by the Sierra Leonean Government and the United Nations under an agreement signed on 16 January.

Some 20 parties have been registered by the National Election Commission to contest the polls.

Incumbent President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah is seeking re-election as the candidate of the Sierra Leone's People's Party.

The elections will be the first since a decade of civil war ended in January.

The violence unleashed by the RUF left at least 50,000 people dead, and many thousands more maimed or raped.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Michael Voss
"The UN Security Council voted unanimously to maintain its military presence"
See also:

25 Mar 02 | Africa
Sankoh declares innocence
13 Mar 02 | Africa
In pictures: Foday Sankoh emerges
12 May 00 | Africa
Foday Sankoh: Rebel leader
11 Mar 02 | Africa
Sankoh murder trial begins
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