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Sunday, October 3, 1999 Published at 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK

World: Africa

Rebel leader returns to Sierra Leone

The peace deal was signed in July

Sierra Leone rebel leader Foday Sankoh has returned to the country for the first time since a peace deal was signed in July.

Witnesses said Mr Sankoh stepped out of a jet at Lungi airport on the northern outskirts of the capital Freetown and spread his arms wide as his supporters cheered.

Sierra Leone
Supporters and officials of his Revolutionary United Front (RUF) were at the airport.

The former military junta leader, Johnny Paul Koroma, was also on board the flight from Liberia.

Mr Sankoh was promised a government position in the peace accord but delayed his return to Sierra Leone for security and logistical reasons.

He will have the rank of vice-president in the new government and head a strategic resources commission.

As he stepped from the plane, provided by the Nigerian Government, he said: "It's a success for the people of Sierra Leone. It's a victory."

Vicious war

After the peace deal was signed Mr Sankoh travelled to a number of African countries and attended an Organisation of African Unity summit in Algeria.

Tens of thousands died in the war for Sierra Leone, with Mr Sankoh's RUF leading the battle against President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and a Nigerian-led West African peacekeeping force.

Its guerrilla war was accompanied by horrific attacks on civilians - many of whom had limbs cut off as part of a terror campaign.

The peace agreement provided amnesty for the rebels as well as giving them a power-sharing role.

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