Page last updated at 12:53 GMT, Monday, 26 October 2009

UN winds down Sierra Leone court

A young Sierra Leonean girl shows her artifical limbs
Many Sierra Leoneans were maimed by rebels during the civil war

A UN-backed court in Sierra Leone has dealt with its last case after seven years investigating atrocities from the country's decade-long civil war.

Thousands were killed, mutilated and raped in the war, which ended in 2002.

The court has spent millions of dollars prosecuting suspects from all sides - money that critics say should have been spent on development projects.

In the Freetown court's final hearing, judges upheld the convictions of three rebel leaders.

The only remaining case is that of Liberia's ex-President Charles Taylor, who is currently on trial in The Hague.

He is accused of backing rebels from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in an attempt to overthrow Sierra Leone's government.

'Heroes' on trial

Judges at the Freetown court upheld lengthy jail sentences against RUF leaders Issa Sesay, Maurice Kallon and Augustine Gbao for a catalogue of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Issa Sesay (C) flanked by security guards
Issa Sesay (C) will spend at least 52 years in jail

The BBC's correspondent in the region, Caspar Leighton, says the court's closure has left many Sierra Leoneans with a mixed experience of international justice.

The court was set up by the UN and Sierra Leone's government in 2002 to punish crimes regardless of who committed them.

But all sides in the civil war committed atrocities and our correspondent says most Sierra Leoneans have an idea of who were the heroes and who were the villains.

Many of them balked at seeing Sam Hinga Norman, the leader of the Civilian Defence Force militia, in the dock.

He had been a hero for the people of Freetown, fighting hard against the RUF rebels - but his forces committed atrocities.

Mr Hinga Norman died during his trial.

The notorious leader of the RUF rebels, Foday Sankoh, also died while on trial.

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