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25 Feb 2009 13:31
Sierra Leone’s war crimes tribunal is set to hand down its verdict on Wednesday against three rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leaders accused of committing atrocities during the 1991-2001 civil war.
A crowd of about 200 gathered at the court compound in Freetown early on Wednesday to hear the verdict from the public gallery. Friends of the accused, victims and local politicians milled around the courtyard, with some queuing as early at 7.30am for the verdict due to be read out at about 10am.
Prosecutors say the three senior commanders of the RUF, Issa Sesay, Morris Kallon and Augustine Gbao, ordered and carried out a spree of killings, rapes and mutilations.
They face 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The accusations include murder, rape, sexual enslavement, cruelty, using child soldiers and attacks on United Nations soldiers during the civil war.
By the time the conflict ended, about 120 000 people had been killed and tens of thousands mutilated, their arms, legs, noses or ears cut off.
The three defendants have denied the charges.
On Wednesday people waiting to hear the verdict declined to speak to AFP saying they would comment when it was known.
The judges will only rule on whether the suspects are guilty or not.
The sentences, if they are convicted, will be passed at separate hearings.
Sesay, Kallon and Gbao were among the “most senior members of the RUF” and involved in a joint criminal enterprise with former Liberian president Charles Taylor to control the diamond fields of Sierra Leone to finance their warfare, according to prosecutors.
RUF rebels terrorised the civilian population of Sierra Leone, killing and raping at will and forcing people to work in their diamond fields.
During the trial the 75 witnesses presented by the prosecution told harrowing tales of rapes and killings at the hands of the rebels.
Tactics favoured by the rebels included amputating hands and arms or carving the initials RUF into the bodies of their victims.
The RUF was notorious for using so-called Small Boys Units, boys forcibly recruited and issued with AK-47’s.
Many victims in Sierra Leone still bear the physical and psychological scars of the conflict.
“How can I forgive them [RUF] when they have crippled me,” 35-year-old Tommy Kallon, a double amputee who can only move around in a wheelchair, told AFP earlier this week.
The three RUF leaders were initially indicted along with the RUF’s founder and close Taylor ally Foday Sankoh, who died in custody before the case ever came to trial.
Charles Taylor is on trial in a separate case before the Special Court for Sierra Leone, sitting in The Hague for those proceedings. He faces 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Sesay (38), Kallon (45) and 60-year-old Gbao went on trial in June 2004. Their defence says they are not responsible for the atrocities and that there is no evidence they were directly involved.
Sesay’s lawyers tried to cast him as a peacemaker because he signed the Lome peace agreement which ended the war.
The RUF case is the last of the three special court trials held in Freetown. The only trial still ongoing before the Sierra Leone tribunal is Taylor’s case, which was moved to The Hague for security reasons.—Sapa-AFP
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