Thursday, February 22, 2007

S.Leone war crimes indictee Hinga Norman dies

  DAKAR, Feb 22 (Reuters) - A former Sierra Leonean militia leader, whose fighters were accused of human sacrifice and cannibalism during a civil war, has died weeks before the verdict was due in his war crimes trial.

Sam Hinga Norman was a former government minister and co-ordinator of the Civil Defence Forces (CDF) militia during the ex-British colony's 1991-2002 conflict. He had been on trial at a U.N.-backed tribunal in the capital Freetown.

The 67-year-old was flown to a military hospital in Senegal in January for treatment which had been considered routine but he died on Thursday after surgery, the Special Court for Sierra Leone said.

"He was talking with the doctor this morning about world affairs and suddenly he just collapsed," an official at the court told Reuters. Initial indications suggested he had suffered heart failure during post-operative care.

Sierra Leone's war shocked the world with its images of drugged-up child soldiers and civilians whose limbs were hacked off by machete-wielding rebel and militia fighters. U.N. peacekeepers disarmed more than 47,000 fighters before it ended.

Norman was acting defence minister and national coordinator of the CDF during the war in which some 50,000 people were killed. He was also leader of the feared Kamajor hunters that formed the backbone of the militia.

He had been charged with eight counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Norman maintained his innocence throughout the trial, which began in June 2004.

"The judges are drafting their verdicts right now. They could have been delivered in April or May," the court official said.


The indictment against Norman and two co-defendants stated Kamajor fighters killed scores of civilians suspected of sympathising with the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF), and some of them were hacked and burned to death.

It also said Norman knew and approved of the recruitment of children below the age of 15 into the Kamajor.

The prosecution told a court in Freetown that witnesses had described how drug-addled Kamajor fighters paraded severed heads and ate the roasted flesh and intestines of their victims.

It said the three defendants were each liable for crimes carried out under their orders "as if they committed each and every crime themselves".

In death as in life, Norman divided public opinion.

"Hinga Norman is a hero. He won the peace for Sierra Leone," said Mohamed Foday, a security guard whose father was killed by rebels. "He fought legally alongside government soldiers and the government should have stopped him going to court."

In a heated debate on the Freetown street behind him, others said they wished he had lived to suffer just punishment.

The Special Court's highest-profile indictee, former president of neighbouring Liberia, Charles Taylor, has been sent to a special sitting of the court in The Hague to face war crimes charges linked to his support for rebels during the war.

RUF leader Foday Sankoh died in captivity in 2003, months after his field commander Sam Bockarie was shot dead in Liberia. (Additional reporting by James Knight and Katrina Manson in Freetown)

Link to Reuters AlertNet - S.Leone war crimes indictee Hinga Norman dies