Foday Sankoh, the former rebel leader in Sierra Leone, was taken to a Freetown court yesterday and charged with murder, his first public appearance since he was caught 18 months ago. Mr Sankoh, who led the Revolutionary United Front, had been held at an undisclosed spot.
He was in court with 49 other rebels, accused of firing into protesters on the day of his arrest in Freetown. All were charged with murder and conspiracy to murder. Mr Sankoh, who appeared ill and could hardly walk, was in handcuffs. Security was heavy and large crowds had gathered.
President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah recently lifted a four-year-long state of emergency, which had enabled the government to detain Mr Sankoh indefinitely without charging him. Several members of the notorious West Side Boys gang, a renegade faction of the Sierra Leone army known for brutality, are also to face the court. Mr Sankoh is widely expected to be among those charged by a separate war crimes tribunal, set up by the government and the United Nations.
Sierra Leone has been devastated by the war, which began in 1991 when Mr Sankoh founded the rebel movement. His forces tried to overthrow the government to gain control of the diamond mines. The rebels signed and broke three peace accords but agreed to a deal in November 2000 under pressure from the UN, Britain and neighbouring Guinea. The country has been peaceful since and the war was officially declared over in January.