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Wednesday, June 23, 1999 Published at 10:48 GMT 11:48 UK

World: Africa

Sierra Leone cabinet post for Sankoh?

20,000 have died since fighting began in 1991

Rebel leader Foday Sankoh could end up with a ministerial position following peace talks in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone
The make-up of a future government is currently under discussion at talks designed to end the brutal eight-year civil war.

Information Minister Julius Spencer told the BBC that the government does not have any objection in principle to Mr Sankoh, the leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), receiving a cabinet post.

[ image: Foday Sankoh: Vice presidency ruled out]
Foday Sankoh: Vice presidency ruled out
However the minister said that only President Ahmed Tejjan Kabbah had the authority to appoint his cabinet.

Mr Spencer added that a rebel request that Mr Sankoh be made vice-president was not possible because the country already had a democratically-elected deputy.

President Kabbah is reported to have offered the RUF three cabinet seats in exchange for peace.

Government sources say the rebels had demanded six cabinet posts, but mediators believe the rebels will accept the deal.

'Agreement soon'

On Tuesday, the UN special representative to Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo, said a power-sharing agreement might be signed within days.

The offer followed a day of talks in the capital Freetown involving government leaders and senior African, British and American diplomats.

The BBC's Mark Doyle: Question of rebels has dominated peace talks
First word of an impending deal came from the man who has presided over a month of negotiations in Lome, Togo's Foreign Minister Joseph Koffigoh.

"The principle of the participation of the RUF has been accepted, but their level of participation is still posing a problem," he said.

Controversial move

The question of whether President Kabbah's government should share power with the RUF rebels has dominated debate since the peace talks began.

Some people want peace at any price, while others - especially in the capital, Freetown - are against the idea of the democratically-elected government sharing granting power to rebels who have committed widespread atrocities

On Friday, Freetown was brought to a standstill by demonstrators opposed to making concessions to the rebels.

Death sentence

The RUF has waged war on successive governments in Sierra Leone since 1991.

Since the negotiations began in May, both sides have agreed to the release of prisoners of war behind enemy lines and to allow humanitarian aid to be distributed.

The release of Mr Sankoh, who was sentenced to death in October on treason charges, has also been agreed in principle.

But the future role of the Nigerian-led Ecomog intervention force, whose troops have been defending the government against rebels, remains to be resolved.

An estimated 20,000 people have died and half of Sierra Leone's 4.5 million inhabitants have been displaced since the start of fighting nine years ago.

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