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09.09.2020 Sierra Leone

Former Sierra Leone rebel leader granted early release

By AFP
Augustine Gbao, right, was sentenced in 2009 to 25 years in prison for acts including terrorism, extermination, murder, rape and sexual slavery.  By HO (AFP/File)
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Augustine Gbao, right, was sentenced in 2009 to 25 years in prison for acts including terrorism, extermination, murder, rape and sexual slavery. By HO (AFP/File)

Sierra Leone's UN-backed tribunal said Wednesday it will grant conditional early release to a former rebel leader in prison for crimes against humanity committed during the country's brutal civil war.

Augustine Gbao, 72, a former leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), had served 17 years of a 25-year sentence for acts including terrorism, extermination, murder, rape and sexual slavery.

The Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone, based in The Hague, is the successor to a court established by the United Nations in 2002 to try those who bear "the greatest responsibility" for the atrocities during the West African country's 1991-2001 civil war.

The conflict, financed largely by so-called blood diamonds, left 120,000 people dead and tens of thousands mutilated.

"Former RUF commander Augustine Gbao has been granted conditional early release, with a three-month delay, during which time he must undergo specific training geared to his understanding of and acceptance of responsibility for the harm he inflicted by his crimes," the court said in a statement released Wednesday.

The court found that Gbao, who was detained in 2003 and is serving his sentence in Rwanda, had "largely behaved properly in prison" and showed remorse, it said.

Gbao will be able to serve the remainder of his sentence in his community of Blama, a town in Sierra Leone's Eastern Province, subject to close supervision and strict conditions.

The conditions include a radio and television apology to the victims of his crimes and to the people of Sierra Leone.

Between 1991 and 2001, the RUF carried out a series of atrocities in order to try to gain control over Sierra Leone's lucrative mining districts.

During the 2009 sentencing for Gbao and two other RUF leaders, the court said the rebels terrorised the civilian population with mass killings, rape and amputations.

The rebels also forcibly recruited child soldiers.

The court had rejected on Tuesday a bid by former Liberian president and convicted war criminal Charles Taylor -- who is serving a 50-year sentence for crimes committed in Sierra Leone -- to be moved from a British jail, where he claimed he risks dying from coronavirus.

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