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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
Sierra Leone ex-rebels fighting poll
RUF leader Foday Sankoh
Sankoh cannot vote or stand in the 14 May elections
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By the BBC's Mark Doyle

The former Sierra Leone rebels of the Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP) will be fielding a candidate in presidential elections in May, the country's electoral authorities have announced.

Ballot papers have to go to the printers now, and Mr Bangura's name will be on them

Walter Nicol, Electoral Commission
They have nominated the party's secretary general, Pallo Bangura, after a week of political controversy.

The RUFP leader, Foday Sankoh, is in jail and was not allowed to run for president.

But some of his supporters said he should stand despite the murder charges he faces before a Sierra Leone court - and the prospect of further charges under a UN war crimes tribunal.

Elastic deadline

Some RUFP members had said that if the government would not allow Mr Sankoh to stand, his erstwhile battlefield commander, Issa Sesay, should be their candidate.

But Mr Sesay, is too young under the election rules.

Sierra Leone President, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
President Kabbah is standing for re-election
The deadline for submitting candidates was extended twice, amid speculation of behind-the-scenes pressure on the RUFP to put forward a candidate who would qualify under the rules.

Many people feared that if the former rebels were excluded completely, some of their supporters could feel dangerously isolated.

During a decade of war, the RUF and other armed factions committed widespread atrocities against civilians that the UN war crimes tribunal hopes to address.

But when asked whether there could be any more delays or changes, the head of the Electoral Commission, Walter Nicol, told the BBC: "No, I think that's it. The ballot papers have to go to the printers now, and Mr Bangura's name will be on them for the RUFP".

Polling is due to take place on 14 May, despite requests from some RUFP members for it to be delayed because the registration of their party was delayed - they say as a deliberate tactic by the government.

Peace prospects

The incumbent President, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, is standing, and Mr Nicol said there would be seven other candidates.

Apart from Mr Bangura of the RUFP, these include veteran Sierra Leonean politicians and the leader of a former military junta.

Many atrocities were committed during the war
There will also be a newcomer to the hustings, the only contesting woman, Mrs Zainab Bangura, who is standing on an anti-corruption, pro-democracy ticket.

The United Nations is hoping that next month's elections will usher in a new peaceful era in Sierra Leone, so allowing it to reduce the size of its peacekeeping force there, which, at some 17,000 soldiers, is the largest UN mission in the world.

Most ordinary Sierra Leoneans are hoping for a peaceful poll as well - but many of them are very wary of the UN reducing its presence.

The civil war was declared over in January, when thousands of rebels handed in their weapons to United Nations peacekeepers.

See also:

28 Mar 02 | Africa
Sankoh barred from poll
13 Mar 02 | Africa
In pictures: Foday Sankoh emerges
12 May 00 | Africa
Foday Sankoh: Rebel leader
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