Sierra Leone 'blood diamond' rebels found guilty of war crimes

By Mike Pflanz, West Africa Correspondent


Telegraph.co.uk


The UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone found Issa Sesay, Morris Kallon and Augustine Gbao guilty of most of 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity carried out during the country’s brutal civil war.


The decade of fighting, fuelled by the trade in “blood diamonds”, only ended when Britain sent 800 Paratroopers into the country to combat the Revolutionary United Front, the rebel group commanded by the three men.


The war killed more than 120,000 people and left tens of thousands maimed after their arms, legs, noses or ears were cut off by RUF rebels, who were largely bankrolled by Charles Taylor, then president of neighbouring Liberia, who paid in weapons for Sierra Leone’s diamonds.


“Today’s judgement (…) respects the suffering of the multitude of victims who were mutilated or enslaved, who were murdered or raped, and who were rendered homeless or destitute,” said Stephen Rapp, the court’s prosecutor.


The RUF was also notorious for its Small Boys Units, made up of child soldiers as young as eight who were forcibly recruited and then drugged and sent to fight with AK47 assault rifles.


They became among the most feared units in what was one of the world’s most vicious civil wars.


The three RUF leaders were initially indicted along with RUF founder Foday Sankoh, a close ally of Taylor. But Sankoh died in custody before the case ever came to trial.


Taylor is currently on trial in The Hague, in a separate branch of the Special Court. Mr Rapp said on Tuesday that he may walk free because international donors hit by the global economic crisis have failed adequately to fund its functions.


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