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UN Court Requests Proof of Sierra Leone Rebel Leader's Death - 2003-05-07

The U.N. backed war crimes court in Sierra Leone is asking Liberia to provide proof that wanted rebel leader Sam Bockarie is dead.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the U.N. war crimes court for Sierra Leone says that if Mr. Bockarie is indeed dead, Liberia must hand over his body for forensic examination and positive identification.

A body identified by Liberian authorities as that of Mr. Bockarie is being displayed in a morgue in Monrovia.

Eyewitnesses who had met Mr. Bockarie before, said they recognized him. They said there were no apparent bullet wounds.

The court in Sierra Leone last week accused Liberian President Charles Taylor of sheltering war crimes suspects, including Mr. Bockarie, who was a leader of the Revolutionary United Front during Sierra Leone's brutal civil war.

Liberia says Mr. Bockarie was killed while resisting arrest near the border with Ivory Coast earlier this week.

Joseph Rahal, the chairman of Sierra Leone's forum of national human rights, said Mr. Taylor may have ordered the killing of Mr. Bockarie, who was also known as Mosquito, because he knew too much. "There is a lot of mixed feelings right now in Freetown regarding the death or the announcement of the death of Mosquito. Some are saying it is true but that it was actually orchestrated, deliberately done, and that in fact Mr. Taylor has deliberately killed Mosquito because Mosquito knew so much about the area he may even implicate people like Taylor in the process of a trial," he said.

The war crimes court had also warned Mr. Taylor that he was vulnerable to indictment for helping an indicted war criminal.

Mr. Bockarie, a former hairdresser, diamond miner and disco dance champion, is also believed to have fought alongside rebels in western Ivory Coast with the backing of Mr. Taylor in recent months.

Ivorian rebels have recently been trying to disarm mercenaries who had previously been fighting on their side, but who are now resisting efforts for peace in Ivory Coast.

Last month, Ivorian rebels accused Mr. Bockarie of killing one of their leaders in an ambush.

The initial announcement of Mr. Bockarie's death on Tuesday came as the U.N. Security Council extended sanctions against Liberia for one year for its support of rebel groups operating in neighboring countries.

Under the sanctions, arms sales to Liberia are banned and the country is not permitted to export diamonds. Senior officials of Mr. Taylor's government are also forbidden to travel outside the country. In addition, the Security Council this year toughened the sanctions by adding an embargo on Liberia's lucrative timber exports.