Sierra Leone court upholds sentences on militia chiefs

FREETOWN Fri Feb 22, 2008 8:27am EST

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FREETOWN (Reuters) - Sierra Leone's war crimes court on Friday rejected an appeal by three former militia leaders against long jail sentences handed down last July for atrocities committed during the former British colony's civil war.

Presiding Judge George Gelaga King told the Special Court for Sierra Leone he saw no reason to reduce the jail terms given to the three commanders of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) because of the brutality of their crimes.

"Women and young girls were gang raped to death. ... Sons were forced to rape mothers, brothers were forced to rape sisters," King said in his concluding remarks.

"Men were disemboweled and their intestines stretched across a road to form a barrier. Human heads were placed on sticks on either side of the road to mark such barriers."

The U.N.-backed tribunal last year jailed Alex Tamba Brima and Santigie Borbor Kanu for 50 years each and Brima Bazzy Kamara for 45 years for crimes committed during the country's diamond-fuelled 1991-2002 conflict.

All three were convicted on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity including terrorizing civilians, unlawful killings, rape, abductions and forced labor.

They were also convicted of forcing children under 15 to become soldiers, a verdict hailed by rights campaigners as the first ruling by an international tribunal on the practice.

The judge at the time said the men had committed "some of the most heinous, brutal and atrocious crimes ever recorded in human history".

All three sat quietly as the appeal against their sentences was rejected, Brima and Kamara wearing gold jewelry and short dreadlocks, Kanu in a somber suit and tie.

COUP

Sierra Leone's civil war was one of the most brutal in modern African history. It was brought to an end with the help of soldiers from former colonial power Britain and what was then the world's biggest United Nations peacekeeping force.

The AFRC staged a coup on May 25, 1997, ousting President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah just six months after he signed a peace deal.

It then sided with Corporal Foday Sankoh's rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in a bid to gain control of the West African country and its diamond mines.

In its indictment against the three AFRC leaders, the prosecution said fighters carved the initials 'AFRC' and 'RUF' into the bodies of captured men, women and children.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone was set up jointly by the country's government and the United Nations in 2002 to try those most responsible for human rights violations during the later stages of the civil war.

It initially issued 13 indictments against leaders from all three main warring factions but three suspects have since died and the whereabouts of another is unknown.

The court's most high-profile defendant, the former president of neighboring Liberia, Charles Taylor, is on trial for war crimes for backing the rebels in Sierra Leone's war, in which an estimated 50,000 people were killed.

Taylor is being tried in The Hague due to fears that holding the trial in Freetown could endanger regional security.

(Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Alistair Thomson and Mary Gabriel)

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