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The BBC's Mark Doyle
"The people of Sierra Leone are beginning to believe that their nightmare may have an end"
 real 56k

The BBC's Jon Leyne
"It's an innovative idea likely to produce many legal complications"
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Monday, 14 August, 2000, 22:55 GMT 23:55 UK
War crimes tribunal for Sierra Leone
Foday Sankoh (right)
Foday Sankoh in a truck shortly after his detention
The United Nations Security Council has voted in favour of setting up a special international court to try Sierra Leone rebels accused of war crimes.

The move paves the way for the prosecution of Foday Sankoh, leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), and some of his closest lieutenants - though an amnesty granted to rebels last year could raise legal obstacles.

The court will deal with crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of international law, as well as crimes under Sierra Leone law during the nine-year civil war.

Injured man
The rebels are accused of deliberately maiming civilians
It will differ from the purely UN tribunals set up at The Hague to try alleged war criminals from the former Yugoslavia, and at Arusha to deal with those responsible for the 1994 mass killings in Rwanda.

The tribunal - which is to have judges from Sierra Leone and other countries - is expected to be based in a West African country.

The resolution requests that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan "negotiate an agreement with the government of Sierra Leone to create an independent special court" and to report back to the council within 30 days.

The UN Security Council has previously been divided on how to deal with atrocities in Sierra Leone - especially in the light of last year's peace deal, which granted the rebels amnesty and a share in government in return for a ceasefire.

Strike terror

The accord later collapsed as the rebels renewed their offensive, and the legal status of the amnesty is now in question.

The Sierra Leone rebels have been accused of using a deliberate policy of cutting off people's limbs to strike terror among the civilian population.

Captured in May, Mr Sankoh remains in government custody, and is likely to be one of the first rebels brought to trial before the special court - though he is not mentioned by name in the latest UN resolution.

But human rights groups would also like to see some members of the government or its allies investigated.

Switched

One group named in particular is the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), a group which temporarily seized control of the country and later fought with the rebels, but which later switched its allegiance to the elected government.

The UN now has some 13,000 peacekeeping troops serving in Sierra Leone - its largest force.

The US-sponsored resolution is expected to be adopted by the 15-member security council on Monday.

"This is a good, firm step to set up a court," Britain's UN Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said last week.

AFRC 'disbands'

Meanwhile, the former rebel leader in Sierra Leone, Johnny Paul Koroma, has announced the disbanding of his group, the AFRC.

Correspondents say the move is seen as an attempt by Mr Koroma to distance himself from a series of criminal acts carried out by AFRC remnants.

Mr Koroma is now chairman of the Commission for Consolidation of Peace, charged with overseeing the disarmament and demobilisation of Sierra Leone rebel fighters.

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See also:

27 Jul 00 | Africa
Analysis: Sankoh under pressure
03 Aug 00 | Africa
Wife's writ to locate Sankoh
17 Jul 00 | Africa
Rescuer died in Leone operation
12 May 00 | Africa
Foday Sankoh: Rebel leader
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