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Thursday, 18 May, 2000, 13:58 GMT 14:58 UK
The strange tale of Sankoh's capture
Foday Sankoh - captured
Foday Sankoh is driven away by his angry captors
The most hated and feared man in Sierra Leone had wrapped a towel round his head as a disguise, but he was instantly recognised by a passer-by.

He said: 'I am Foday Sankoh - don't be scared'

Kaba Sesay
It was dawn, and Foday Sankoh was approaching the very house he had disappeared from nine days earlier.

"I was going to pray with my son when I saw him in front of me, on the path," said Kaba Sesay, a 53-year-old Muslim.

"I knew who he was, but he said: 'I am Foday Sankoh. Don't be scared. Will you help me? I need a taxi to take me to the Nigerian High Commission.'"

Shack refuge

Instead of calling a taxi, Mr Sesay went to get an armed ex-soldier known as Scorpion - a well-known figure in the neighbourhood.

He is an animal, so he should be naked like an animal

Scorpion then made the arrest that ended a nationwide search for the rebel leader.

"Today, I am a hero. Today the Scorpion catches the lion. The war is finished," he shouted, as crowds chanted "Scorpion, Scorpion".

Mr Sankoh's mysterious disappearance, after his guards opened fire on thousands of stone-throwing demonstrators outside his house on 8 May, spawned a host of rumours about his whereabouts.

But it is now reported that he spent the whole period in a shack 100 yards from his house.

Stripped naked

When he reappeared he was accompanied by one armed guard, who was injured as the arrest was made.

Foday Sankoh
Some reports said Mr Sankoh was being held by the UN
According to one account, Scorpion shot the bodyguard, and the bullet passed through his body, hitting Mr Sankoh in the foot.

The shooting drew a crowd, who stripped the rebel leader naked.

"He is an animal, so he should be naked like an animal," Scorpion was quoted as saying.

The naked Mr Sankoh was taken from the scene of his arrest - outside his own ransacked house - to the compound of pro-government militia leader Johnny Paul Koroma.

From there he was moved to Sierra Leone Army headquarters, and flown on to a secret location by British forces.


According to some sources he was flown first to a British warship, HMS Argyle, to have his injured foot treated.

Ransacked Sankoh home
The house was ransacked
Even though many regard Mr Sankoh as the main stumbling block to peace in Sierra Leone and would like to see the back of him, there is a widespread view that he may still be part of the solution.

Many Sierra Leoneans' worst fear was that Mr Sankoh may have escaped back into the bush to lead a new cycle of the civil war that was meant to have come to an end with the peace agreement signed in July 1999.

They are terrified of Mr Sankoh's RUF 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.

What next?

Government Information Minister, Julius Spencer told the BBC the cabinet would meet to decide what to do with Mr Sankoh.

Sankoh Freetown residence
The gate to the house was destroyed
He said he hoped Mr Sankoh would give the rebels the "correct message" to halt the violence.

But persistent reports of splits within the rebel movement have raised doubts whether he has the authority to enforce another ceasefire.

US presidential envoy Jesse Jackson angered many Sierra Leoneans by suggesting that Mr Sankoh still had a positive role to play in the country.

Some have called for him to be tried at an international war crimes tribunal.

The UN may be able to negotiate with Mr Sankoh for the release of the hundreds of UN personnel who are still held hostage by the rebels.

However, the Liberian President, Charles Taylor, has warned that Mr Sankoh's arrest could complicate negotiations over the hostages, and more generally harm the prospects for peace in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone in crisis

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See also:

09 May 00 | Africa
09 May 00 | Africa
04 May 00 | Africa
18 May 00 | Africa
18 May 00 | Africa
17 May 00 | Africa
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