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3 Sierra Leoneans guilty of using child soldiers, other war crimes

June 21, 2007|From the Associated Press

FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE — Three former Sierra Leonean military leaders were found guilty of war crimes Wednesday in the first verdicts stemming from the country's civil war and the first convictions in an international court for using child soldiers.

A United Nations-backed court found the three guilty of 11 of 14 charges, including terrorism, using child soldiers, enslavement, rape and murder.

They were acquitted of charges of sexual slavery, "other inhumane acts" related to physical violence, and acts related to sexual violence, said Peter Andersen, spokesman for the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

The tribunal was set up after the end of fighting in 2002 to prosecute the worst offenders in a war that ravaged the small West African nation and neighboring Liberia. The court has indicted 12 people, including former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who is charged with backing Sierra Leonean rebels.

The three defendants convicted Wednesday in Freetown had pleaded not guilty.

Alex Tamba Brima, Brima Bazzy Kamara and Santigie Borbor Kanu were indicted in 2003 as the alleged leaders of the junta, called the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council. The group of former military officers toppled Sierra Leone's government in 1997 and then teamed up with rebels to control the country until 1998, according to the indictment.

The judge read the ruling three times -- once for each defendant as the accused stood. The men, all in suits and ties, showed little emotion during the verdict-reading and then bowed their heads.

Sentencing is scheduled for mid-July.

The gallery was filled with about 200 people, including defendants' relatives, military officials, police and spectators.

The group led by the three men committed its worst atrocities after it was pushed into the bush by an international peacekeeping force in 1998, said Corinne Dufka, a senior researcher at New York-based Human Rights Watch. It was then that it started "punishing the civilian population as a whole," Dufka said.

In Liberia, Taylor's men are accused of organizing the "Small Boys Unit," which conscripted youngsters, armed them with machine guns and gave them names like Babykiller.

Taylor's trial opened this month in The Hague, but it remained under the auspices of the Sierra Leone court.

It is estimated that tens of thousands were killed in Sierra Leone's conflict, in which illicit diamond sales fueled years of devastation.

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