- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone His hair and beard in unkempt white dreadlocks, Sierra Leone's once mighty and feared rebel leader seems these days to hover on the verge of madness but he insists he's still at the pinnacle of power.

"I'm a god," the handcuffed former warlord, Foday Sankoh, said last week at the Freetown court where he's on trial for murder. "I'm the inner god. I'm the leader of Sierra Leone."

Sankoh is being tried with 49 other rebels of his Revolutionary United Front in connection with the shooting deaths of 22 protesters who were demanding peace outside his home in the capital on May 8, 2000. Together the defendants face 70 counts, including murder, conspiracy to murder and shooting with intent to kill.

Court proceedings were adjourned until July 10 to give prosecutors time to prepare their cases against the accused.

If convicted, Sankoh could face the death penalty, Judge Patrick Hamilton said.

Sankoh denied all charges during preliminary questioning in a lower court but has not entered a formal plea.

Prosecutors insist he is fit to stand trial.

However, asked repeatedly by journalists who his lawyer was, Sankoh first said he couldn't understand the question, then said he didn't know.

Frail-looking in a pale yellow robe, the former rebel chief climbed slowly up the courtroom steps gripping a handrail for support, surrounded by a dozen unarmed policemen.

As Sankoh was leaving, his daughter, Mbalu Sankoh, trailed him in tears, saying, "It's me, Daddy. It's me."

Appearing puzzled, Sankoh replied simply, "Oh." Then, after a pause, he kissed her extended hand and smiled.

Two months ago, the rebel leader was examined both physically and psychologically by local doctors at the request of his lawyer, Edo Okanya. The physicians prescribed drugs for high blood pressure and other minor ailments but nothing for his mental state, Mr. Okanya said.

Mr. Okanya said Sankoh may have suffered from being isolated for two years without access to family or friends, but he insisted his client's mental health is "very sound."

"He's still living in his imaginary world," Mr. Okanya said of Sankoh. "Maybe it stems from the fact that he led a very long revolutionary war, and he could never believe he'd have to be facing what he's facing now under the grip of the authorities."

Sankoh's medical records are confidential, and authorities have refused to provide details of his health in custody.

Sankoh, a former wedding photographer, began his rebel war in 1991 with the aim of taking over the West African nation and its lucrative diamond fields. His followers quickly gained notoriety for their brutal tactics killing, raping, maiming and kidnapping tens of thousands of civilians.

"The rebels would line everybody up and start chopping. This man's left hand; this man's right hand; this man, both hands," said Alpha Bockerie, who lost his leg in a bomb blast during fighting in the capital in January 1998.

"Even if they kill [Sankoh], it's not going to pay for all what they done to our country. They wreaked havoc on us," he said at a camp for war amputees.

Sankoh is expected to be among those charged by a separate international war-crimes tribunal, set up by the government and the United Nations this year. No date has yet been set.

Although Sankoh appears incoherent at times, at other moments he seems lucid.

Asked what he thought of the current trial, he said: "Oh, these are just old games."

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