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Jailed Sierra Leone Rebel Leader Faces Murder and Other Charges - 2002-03-04

Sierra Leone's government says jailed rebel leader Foday Sankoh is to appear in court to answer charges related to his part in the country's brutal 10-year civil war.

Foday Sankoh has been in jail for nearly two years, after leading Sierra Leonean rebels in a war whose atrocities shocked the world. Tens of thousands of people were killed during the 10-year conflict, in which rebels became notorious for hacking off the limbs of thousands of civilians.

The government is presenting charges against Mr. Sankoh and a handful of other jailed combatants after President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah on Saturday lifted a two-year-old state of emergency. The war was officially declared ended in January, upon the completion of a U.N.-sponsored disarmament program.

Mr. Sankoh and others could face charges that include murder, which carries the death penalty in Sierra Leone.

Speaking to reporters in the capital, Freetown, Justice Minister Solomon Berewa said the charges against Mr. Sankoh and others are necessary if the government is going to justify keeping them in jail.

Mr. Sankoh was widely expected to be tried in a U.N. special court that is being set up to handle war crimes. The Sierra Leonean government says it decided to charge Mr. Sankoh and others now because preparations for the U.N. special court are not completed.

As part of lifting the state of emergency, the government announced the release of more than 70 jailed combatants, including 42 members of Mr. Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front.

The former rebel leaders have expressed anger that Mr. Sankoh has remained in jail.

The Revolutionary United Front has been in the process of converting itself from a rebel group into a political party. Its leaders say they continue to consider Mr. Sankoh as their candidate in the presidential elections that are scheduled to take place in May.