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Wednesday, June 23, 1999 Published at 13:19 GMT 14:19 UK

World: Africa

Sierra Leone rebels reject peace offer

20,000 have died since fighting began in 1991

Sierra Leone rebel leader Foday Sankoh has rejected an offer from President Tejan Kabbah of three cabinet posts in return for peace.

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

Mr Sankoh said his Revolutionary United Front (RUF) was demanding the vice-presidency in a four-year transitional government, and at least eight cabinet seats.

Foday Sankoh: "The RUF will never back down, never back down, I repeat"
He said there was no question of the group backing down.

But the Sierra Leone Government has already ruled out the possibility of making Mr Sankoh the vice-president.

Information Minister Julius Spencer told the BBC that this request could not be met because the country already had a democratically-elected vice-president.

Mr Spencer also said the government had no objection in principle to Mr Sankoh himself receiving a cabinet post.

The rebels' refusal to accept the government's peace terms comes in spite of the predictions of mediators, who hinted on Tuesday that a power-sharing agreement was close at hand.

Month of talks

Government and rebel representatives have spent the past months in talks in Lome, under the presidency of Togolese Foreign Minister Joseph Koffigoh.

[ image: Foday Sankoh: Wants vice presidency and eight cabinet seats]
Foday Sankoh: Wants vice presidency and eight cabinet seats
The question of whether President Kabbah's government should share power with the RUF rebels has dominated the 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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