FREETOWN Sierra Leone's former president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, widely credited for ending an 11-year civil war, died on Thursday at the age of 82 after a long illness.
President Ernest Bai Koroma's government said in a statement that Kabbah's death was an "irreparable loss" to the West African nation and it declared a week of national mourning.
Kabbah, a long-time U.N. official, won the presidency in 1996, ending a decade of military rule. He was briefly ousted in a military coup the following year before being restored to power by a West African regional force.
He eventually coaxed Sierra Leone through a peace process that ended the brutal civil war in 2002, with the help of U.N. peacekeepers and a military intervention by former colonial power Britain.
He was re-elected by a landslide the same year. The civil war had made Sierra Leone a watchword for brutality, with the drug-crazed child soldiers of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels chopping off the hands and feet of civilians.
About 50,000 people died in the conflict, which devastated the country's infrastructure.
At the end of his second term in 2007, Kabbah won praise for peacefully handing power to the opposition when his Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) lost elections.
Kabbah was lauded for establishing democratic institutions, though his critics said he did not do enough to tackle widespread corruption in one of the world's poorest countries.
(Reporting by Umaru Fofana; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Andrew Heavens)