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3 Sierra Leonean rebel leaders convicted

February 26, 2009|Associated Press

FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE — An international court Wednesday convicted three top rebel leaders of crimes against humanity in this West African nation's 10-year civil war.

Revolutionary United Front leader Issa Sesay and a battlefield commander, Morris Kallon, were found guilty on 16 of 18 counts, including mutilation, terrorism, rape, forced marriage, sexual slavery and the enlistment of child soldiers. Another commander, Augustine Gbao, was found guilty on 14 of the 18 counts.

All three had pleaded not guilty, and they shook their heads as the verdict was read.

About half a million people were victims of killings, systematic mutilation and other atrocities during the war, which ended in 2002.

The rebels allegedly were trained and backed by Charles Taylor, the warlord of neighboring Liberia. Amputations with machetes, axes and knives became their hallmark.

Five other masterminds of the conflict already had been convicted. The RUF's founder and longtime leader, Foday Sankoh, known as "Pa" to his often drugged and drunken child fighters -- died of natural causes in 2003 in United Nations custody.

"The greatest significance of this is that it recognizes that the people of Sierra Leone were victims of these horrendous crimes and it holds individuals accountable," said the Special Court's chief prosecutor, Stephen Rapp. "Beyond that we are also sending a message to this country, across the region and across the world that these crimes will not be tolerated."

The convictions Wednesday were the first involving the many forced marriages of women to rebel fighters. Another first was the conviction of all three for attacking peacekeepers.

The conclusion of the trial marked the end of the special tribunal's work in Freetown, but the court has unfinished business with Taylor, who is being tried in a special session of the Sierra Leonean court in The Hague on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

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