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Sierra Leone's RUFP Will Not Participate in Upcoming Elections - 2002-04-03

Officials with Sierra Leone's former rebel group say their new party, RUFP, will not field a candidate in next month's presidential elections.

For months, members of the former Revolutionary United Front, now the Revolutionary United Front Party, had insisted they would consider their jailed leader, Foday Sankoh, as their candidate in the presidential elections.

The elections, to be held on May 14, will be Sierra Leone's first since the end of a 10-year civil war that killed tens of thousands of people and maimed thousands more.

Mr. Sankoh has been in prison for nearly two years, after his bodyguards opened fire on demonstrators outside his home in May of 2000, killing about 20 people. Sierra Leonean prosecutors have charged him with murder and other crimes. He is also expected to be called before a U.N. special court that will try those suspected of committing atrocities during the country's civil war.

Last week, the head of Sierra Leone's National Electoral Commission said Mr. Sankoh is not eligible to run because he had not registered to vote.

The deadline for nominations, originally set for Tuesday, was pushed back for one day after RUFP officials said they had yet to name a candidate. But on Wednesday, the party's secretary-general, Palo Bangura, said the RUFP would not field a candidate in the presidential race.

Mr. Bangura said, however, the party has nominated a number of candidates for the parliamentary elections, also to be held also on May 14. He told reporters in the capital, Freetown, the party wants to shed its rebel image and instead wants to be seen as a viable political force. "At this point," he said, "it would be in the best interest of the RUFP and [of] the country that we concentrate on the parliamentary elections. The important thing is for us to be seen [as being] inserted in the mainstream of the democratic process. That is what is most important for us."

Mr. Bangura said the RUFP continues to view Foday Sankoh as its chairman.

There had been widespread speculation in Freetown that Mr. Bangura or another RUFP leader might be nominated to run. Former rebels, however, said that if they could not have Mr. Sankoh as their candidate, they would not have a presidential candidate at all.

The abstention of the RUFP from the presidential race leaves a total of nine candidates in the running on May 14. They include incumbent President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who is widely favored to win re-election to a second, five-year term.