Sierra Leone Asks U.N. to Aid War-Crime Trials

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NEW YORK - The government of Sierra Leone has requested U.N. assistance in setting up a court to prosecute for war crimes guerrilla leader Foday Sankoh, and possibly Liberian President Charles Taylor.

A letter from President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah asks for unspecified "support" to set up a hybrid tribunal, likely inside a Freetown courthouse, that would blend elements of national law and international conventions on war crimes and crimes against humanity, said a Sierra Leonean official.

"Our judiciary has been decimated and . . . if we are to engage in this type of trial, we will clearly need legal, administrative and financial assistance," said Allieu Ibrahim Kanu, Sierra Leone's deputy U.N. ambassador and its legal expert.

Mr. Taylor, he said, "is committing aggression against the government of Sierra Leone, and no one is doing anything about that."

The leader of neighboring Liberia has long supported Mr. Sankoh's rebels based in the diamond mining areas of Sierra Leone's interior. The diamonds are widely assumed to be exported through Liberia to finance the civil war.

Mr. Kanu said the legal mechanisms for charging a head of state with aggression and war crimes were not yet clear, but he hoped for guidance on that as well on the intricacies of gathering evidence.

U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva yesterday acknowledged, but declined to comment on, the letter, which did not expressly mention Mr. Taylor.

He said the request had been forwarded to the U.N. legal affairs office, which is now helping Cambodia set up a similar court for Khmer Rouge guerrillas.

The Freetown government has long been battling Mr. Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front, a ragtag group that has butchered and maimed thousands of civilians, including babies. …