Global Policy Forum

Rebel Leader's Fate

Afrol News
May 9, 2001

In the Sierra Leone ceasefire accord review talks in Abuja, the RUF rebels/terrorists and the Sierra Leonean government agreed to a government release of RUF prisoners against a RUF withdrawal from areas close to the Guinean border. Government spokesmen however express serious doubt over whether to release RUF leader Foday Sankoh.

A joint statement, released only on 2 May, stated that the Sierra Leone government would consider the RUF's request for the "urgent release" of the prisoners "in the light of the need for confidence-building measures." The RUF was especially hoping to free its leader, Foday Sankoh, which was arrested almost one year ago. RUF representative Omrie Golley mentioned the leader's possible release assessing the Abuja talks.

In return, RUF fighters were to clear the Kambia area, which is near the border with Guinea. There have been many attacks from the Guinea side of the border in the past few weeks, resulting in large civilian losses. According to Golley, the RUF was "to allow the Sierra Leone Army in the border towns of Guinea to ensure cessation of all future armed incursions from either Guinea or Sierra Leone, and thus respect the territorial integrity of our country." The RUF spokesman was interviews by Radio France International.

For the RUF, a withdrawal from the Kambia area is mainly an asset. The Guinean border zone is the only area where the RUF is involved in fighting, time being. Further, the RUF had lost its little rest of credibility when the UN and Guinea accused the Sierra Leonean fighters and the Liberian government to stand behind the attacks on civilians and refugee camps in Guinea. Liberia is now facing UN sanctions for its involvement in Guinea, while the RUF has found an occasion to distance themselves from the attacks.

Sierra Leonean government officials therefore doubt they will need to pay a price too high for the RUF withdrawal. Solomon Berewa, Minister of Justice, told AP the government had no intention of releasing Sankoh or any other detainees "immediately." But he said: "We can't keep these people in prison forever. We intend to reconsider their cases, but that will depend on how far we can go in the implementation of the peace process."

Also Sierra Leone's envoy to the United Nations, Allieu Ibrahim Kanu, raised doubt about the possibility of releasing Sankoh. He told the BBC that "there was no agreement whatsoever" concerning Sankoh's release. Kanu reminded about the government and UN priority to set up a special court to try those who bear the greatest responsibility for war crimes committed against civilians over the last ten years. Sankoh, as leader of the RUF, is known to have responsibility for serious crimes against humanity.

RUF and government officials are to meet in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on 15 May, and the possible release of Sankoh and other RUF prisoners are due to become one of the main issues. While hopes have risen within the RUF, scepticism is growing on the issue among Sierra Leone government officials.

Also for the UN special court, which is due to be set up in Sierra Leone's capital later this year, a release of the top war crimes responsible would mean a serious setback. The calls to stop negotiating with the terrorist/rebel group have mounted from non-governmental organisations, and a release of Sankoh is set to produce outrage among human rights groups and victims groups.

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