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Sierra Leone Rebel Leaders Guilty of War Crimes

Sierra Leone's war crimes tribunal has convicted former rebel chiefs of crimes against humanity.

The three most-senior surviving members of the rebel Revolutionary United Front were found guilty of murder, rape, sexual enslavement, attacks against U.N. troops, and the use of child soldiers.

Presiding Judge Pierre Boutet began by reading out the verdicts against interim leader Issa Hassan Sesay.

"Having considered all the evidence adduced together with the submission of the parties, the chamber finds with respect to the accused, Issa Hassan Sesay, as follows: Count One - Acts of Terrorism, a violation of Article Three common to the Geneva Conventions and of additional Article Two punishable under Article Three of the statues, guilty," said Judge Boutet.

Sesay and rebel commander Morris Kallon were convicted on 16 of 18 counts of crimes against humanity. Commander Augustine Gbao was found guilty of 14 of the 18 counts.

They were convicted of ordering the mutilation of victims by having the rebel initials RUF carved into their chests and foreheads in a rebellion that left tens of thousands of people maimed as rebels cut off victims' arms, legs, noses and ears.

All three were found guilty of so-called "forced marriage" - the first time that sexual assault verdict has been handed down by an international tribunal.

Sesay, Gbao, and Kallon deny the charges. Under the terms of the special court, all have an automatic right of appeal. If the convictions stand, they will be sentenced at a separate hearing in the coming weeks.

Parliamentarian Paul Kamara says the judgment was fair, but that the issue of compensation for those victimized by the RUF remains.

"Some people must be compensated," he said. "Some people were amputated and all the rest of it. How can they be pleased with that alone."

RUF rebels cut off Mohamed Bah's left arm.

"I feel so happy because the truth is coming out now," said Bah. "And we appreciate that very much. All the victims in Sierra Leone will appreciate this judgment."

Sesay, Gbao, and Kallon are the last of Sierra Leone's rebel leaders to stand trial on charges stemming from the country's 10-year civil war. The special court jointly established by the United Nations and the government of Sierra Leone has convicted eight of the 13 suspects charged. Two remain at large. Two died, including RUF chief Foday Sankoh.

The last, former Liberian leader Charles Taylor, remains on trial in a case that was moved to The Hague because of fears that his supporters might disrupt proceedings in neighboring Sierra Leone.

Taylor is facing 11 counts of crimes against humanity - including murder, rape and enslavement. The court says the former Liberian rebel chief led the RUF into Sierra Leone in 1991 and acted as their leader for much of the conflict.

Taylor has pled not guilty to those charges. Prosecutors say he may go free if international donors do not cover the special court's budget shortfall of more than $5 million.