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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 August, 2003, 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK
Kabbah denies part in atrocities
President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
Mr Kabbah blames Charles Taylor for supporting Sierra Leonean rebels
The President of Sierra Leone, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, has told the country's truth and reconciliation commission that he had no say over the operations of pro-government militias during Sierra Leone's brutal civil war.

"My role was confined to ensuring that government provided the required funds and logistics during the rebel war and to insist that the membership of the CDF [Civil Defence Force] was contented and motivated enough to perform their security role," Mr Kabbah said.

Mr Kabbah's former interior minister, Hinga Norman, has been detained by the UN-backed war crimes court and is awaiting trial for the atrocities committed by the militias while he was the head of CDF.

The militias and rebel forces alike have been accused of extreme brutality against civilians during the conflict.

Mr Kabbah said the Liberian leader, Charles Taylor, had played a major role in developing the Revolutionary United Front rebels, who waged a decade-long brutal war from 1991.

He said that Mr Taylor "is known to have sponsored and organized the initial invasion into Sierra Leone by arming and directing the invaders and his support for them remained active throughout the civil war".

Significant

The rebels were notorious for hacking off of civilians' limbs, mass rape and the recruitment of young children in the war.

RUF victim
Many thousands were maimed by RUF rebels

An estimated 50,000 people died in the civil war and many others had their bodies mutilated and limbs hacked off.

The BBC's Lansanah Fofanah in the capital, Freetown, says that the appearance of President Kabbah before the commission is very significant because of the revelations he made regarding the incapacity of his government to deal with the war situation when he initially assumed the office in 1996.

It also gave an insight of circumstances that led to his overthrow in May 1997 by Major Johnny Paul Koroma who is now on the run, accused of war crimes.

'Burning issues'

Our reporter says that Mr Kabbah's testimony has generated sharp reactions among members of the public.

"I accepted the president's explanation on why the [West African peacekeeping force] Ecomog decided to shoot us in Freetown during the Junta.

Major Johnny Paul Koroma
Major Koroma has been indicted by the UN war tribunal in Freetown

"He also knew about the May 1997 attempted coup but he failed to prevent it," said one Freetown woman who wants the president to apologise to the Sierra Leonean people.

"I was very happy because President Kabbah has stood as a very humble leader and it brought to light what most of us did not know," said one man in the county's capital.

"I feel that there are several burning issues which need to be answered," said another man.

"President Kabbah was the chief of the armed forces during the war and when Hinga Norman is put behind bars today, for the war crimes and crimes against humanity, the president as his boss should say something about that.

The commission, which has heard from 450 victims and perpetrators and received 7,500 written statements since early April is modelled on the South African system used after the end of the apartheid regime.

The commission was holding its final public session and is expected to publish a report in October.




SEE ALSO:
UN blamed for Sankoh death
31 Jul 03  |  Africa
Foday Sankoh: The cruel rebel
30 Jul 03  |  Africa
UN court rejects Sankoh plea
23 Jul 03  |  Africa
Bringing justice to Sierra Leone
17 Jan 02  |  Africa


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