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Last Updated:  Saturday, 15 March, 2003, 14:15 GMT
Sierra Leone accused face court
Foday Sankoh seized May, 2000
Sankoh led the rebels
Sierra Leone's former rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, has appeared before a United Nations court in Sierra Leone after being indicted on war crimes charges.

Mr Sankoh, the leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) during the 10-year civil war, was the first of four accused due to appear before the tribunal on Saturday.

The BBC's Tom McKinley - reporting from the courthouse in the south-eastern town of Bonthe - says the former rebel leader, slouched in a wheelchair with his grey dreadlocks falling over his face, looked a pitiful sight.

The presiding judge, Benjamin Itoe from Cameroon, asked Mr Sankoh several times to confirm his identity and, after getting no response, decided that the hearing could not continue.

Judge Itoe granted a defence request for a full physiological and psychological examination of the defendant.

Mr Sankoh and three other senior rebel figures are accused of crimes including murder, rape, acts of terror, sexual slavery and extermination.

The UN set up the Sierra Leone tribunal to prosecute those considered to have the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed during the conflict.

RUF rebels were blamed in particular for atrocities such as amputating the limbs of civilians, including young children.

Foday Sankoh is also being tried under Sierra Leone law on other charges, including murder.

The former rebel leader faces the death penalty under national law if found guilty, but the special UN court does not have the power to impose capital punishment.

Murder charges

RUF commander Issa Sesay appeared before the tribunal after Mr Sankoh.

The list of 17 charges against him, which included unlawful killing, and physical and sexual violence, took an hour to read out.

He pleaded not guilty on all counts.

Our correspondent says the indictments seemed to indicate that President Charles Taylor of Liberia played a significant role in Sierra Leone's civil war.

The court registrar said that Mr Sesay and his colleagues had acted in concert with Mr Taylor - a statement which adds weight to speculation that the Liberian leader may, at some stage, also be called to face the court.

The two other rebels expected to appear are Morris Kallon, another RUF commander, and Alex Brima, a former leader of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) which initially fought with the rebels, but later switched allegiance to the government.

However, Sierra Leone's Internal Affairs Minister, Sam Hinga Norman, who was indicted with the others on Monday, has not been summoned to appear in court.

Mr Hinga Norman was a leader of the Kamajor militia, which supported the government during the civil war.

Correspondents say he is seen by many in Sierra Leone as a hero who stood up to the rebels.

Both the Kamajors and the rebels were accused of widespread brutality, including rape, arson and plunder of civilian property.

At large

The chief prosecutor has also called on West African countries harbouring the former rebel commander, Sam Bockarie, and former AFRC leader, Johnny Paul Koroma, to hand them over.

Mr Koroma ruled Sierra Leone during one of the bloodiest periods of the decade-long civil war.

He seized power from President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah in 1997, but was driven out again early in 1998.

Sam Bockarie, known by his rebel name Mosquito, is one of the country's most notorious rebel leaders.

He left Liberia in February last year where he had sought refuge following pressure on that country by the UN.

He was reported to be in Ivory Coast.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Tom McKinley
"The former rebel leader was a pitiful sight"



SEE ALSO:
Notorious rebel leaves Liberia
08 Feb 01 |  Africa


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