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Wednesday, 10 May, 2000, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
Where is Foday Sankoh?
Foday Sankoh
Mr Sankoh was last seen at his home on Monday
The lack of news about the fate of the rebel leader Foday Sankoh is a matter of grave concern - not just for many frightened Sierra Leoneans, but also for the United Nations.

Mr Sankoh was last seen at his Freetown residence before tens of thousands of protesters surrounded the house to demand that he respected the Lome peace accord.


Ransacked Sankoh home
The house has been ransacked
Violence erupted after his bodyguards opened fire on stone-throwing demonstrators. About 16 people - including seven civilians - died as a result.

The house, which was given to Mr Sankoh by the Sierra Leonean Government - was ransacked by pro-government forces, and Mr Sankoh has gone missing since then.

Terror

People are terrified of Mr Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front fighters who remain in the rural areas where they have brutally terrorised civilians.

There have been cases of rebels amputating the arms of children - some as young as a few weeks old.

Even though many see him as the main stumbling block to peace in Sierra Leone and would like to see the back of him, it is acknowledged that Mr Sankoh is very much part of the solution.


Foday Sankoh
Some reports say Mr Sankoh is being held by the military
Reports that the UN had put him under house arrest in Freetown prompted his fighters in the rural areas to mount reprisals against UN forces.

The UN, which has been providing security around Mr Sankoh's house, needs him to negotiate the release of about 500 UN personnel currently believed to have been taken hostage by the rebels.

It is believed that the latest rebel advance on Freetown has been prompted by Monday's attack by protesters on Mr Sankoh's residence.

The fear of many people is that if he escaped back into the bush after Monday's violence around his Freetown home then that could trigger a resumption of the civil war.

So for both his supporters and enemies alike it is important that the RUF leader's whereabouts are known soon.

Speculation

Speculation is rife in Freetown that Mr Sankoh was whisked away from his besieged residence by Unamsil forces in a battle tank to the UN headquarters at Mamy Yoko Hotel.


Sierra Leone protesters
About ten thousands protesters marched on Mr Sankoh's home
But the UN has denied the reports and expressed its own anxiety about finding him.

"We do not know under what circumstances he left his residence," UN spokesman David Wimhurst told reporters.

"We are anxious to contact Mr Sankoh," he added.

Other accounts claim he has actually escaped into the hills surrounding Freetown with his bodyguards.

This account has not been confirmed.

The government of President Kabbah has not made any comments about Mr Sankoh's whereabouts, but the Sierra Leonean High Commissioner to the UK Sulaiman Tejan-Jalloh told the BBC that the government was investigating his disappearance.

The most plausible speculation so far suggested that Mr Sankoh was taken from his house into protective custody by the Sierra Leonean Army, which is loyal to the Kabbah government.

An Italian-based Missionary Service News Agency (Misna) has reported a senior political source as saying that Mr Sankoh was being held at defence headquarters in Freetown for his own protection.

But Deputy Defence Minister Hinga Norman denied that report.

Ransacked residence

In the ransacked two-storey building that was Mr Sankoh's home, reporters saw papers and documents strewn across the floor.


Sankoh Freetown residence
The gate to the house has been destroyed
Outside the compound were the bodies of four men and a woman believed to be members of the RUF.

The windows of the house had been destroyed and the gate was destroyed.

Photographs showing Mr Sankoh shaking hands with various personalities hung on the wall.

But the compound was deserted and speculation is becoming more rife about the missing rebel leader.

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See also:

10 May 00 | Africa
Refugees arrive in Freetown
09 May 00 | Africa
Can the UN force restore peace?
09 May 00 | Africa
Fear and anger in Freetown
09 May 00 | Africa
BBC's key role in Sierra Leone
04 May 00 | Africa
Renewed bid to free UN troops
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