British lawyer insists brutal reputation of Sierra Leone's rebel front is unfair

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair can expect a rapturous welcome in Freetown this morning for his contribution to peace. But there is another, more controversial, Briton who has also played a central role in shaping the new Sierra Leone.

Omrie Golley is a London lawyer of Sierra Leonean parentage with a practice in Kensington High Street. But for the past six years he has worked for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), representing it at peace talks and defending it against allegations of war atrocities.

"There's been an almost rabid perception of the RUF as hackers of limbs. It's got to be put in context," he said at his Freetown hotel suite.

The UN Security Council imposed an international travel ban on Mr Golley and 25 other RUF figures last May for alleged involvement in smuggling "blood diamonds" from Sierra Leone into Liberia. Mr Golley denies the charges, which he says were brought by the British Government.

Diplomats, human rights workers and government figures in Freetown agree that Mr Golley has played a crucial role in the recent peace process, which has seen the RUF disarm and transform itself into a political party.

"He has been very positive in the achievement of peace," said the Attorney General of Sierra Leone, Solomon Berewa.

Mr Golley, the son of a retired Supreme Court judge, became involved with the RUF at peace talks in 1996. He agreed to represent them when he saw they "did not have horns and tails but were fighting against corruption and mismanagement".

However, critics say the RUF showed little evidence of political thinking during the Freetown offensive of January 1999, the most concentrated period of abuses during the war. At that time Mr Golley was its official spokesman.

He claims to have paid a heavy personal toll in the search for peace. His first marriage to a Syrian broke up; he has since remarried, to a Croatian. Now Mr Golley is concentrating on politics, declaring his intention to stand for the presidency of Sierra Leone in five years' time.

"My people will understand the sacrifices I've made in the fullness of time," he said.