Brutal rebel with a lust for diamonds
By Anton La Guardia © 2000 in Johannesburg Guardian, UK 5/8/00
Yet, single-handed, he has brought the elected President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah to his knees, seen off the Nigerian army, unhinged British diplomacy and humiliated the United Nations by taking hundreds of its peacekeepers hostage.
Now the world is forced to try to reason with "Papa", as the leader of Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front likes to be called, beseeching him to release the UN captives and honour the peace deal he signed last year. His eight-year-old war is not driven by ideology, but by greed and the desire to control the country's diamond wealth.
He has used appalling brutality to cow civilians and recruit fighters, mined diamonds to pay for his war and relied on the world's lack of resolve to deal with another hopeless African war. It is easier to bargain with Mr Sankoh than to try to defeat him.
Under the terms of last year's peace deal signed in Lome, Mr Sankoh was released from a Nigerian prison and joined a government of unity. His followers, many of them drugged, many of them children barely old enough to carry a gun, were granted amnesty despite all the atrocities they had committed.
Now it seems that Sankoh is not content with merely sharing the spoils of the country's wealth - gold, titanium, bauxite and, above all, diamonds. Papa wants it all to himself. The Lome agreement did not end the civil war; it was merely a pause in Sankoh's struggle for power.
Exhausted Sierra Leoneans were told to swallow the bitter pill of amnesty for the sake of peace. Now they see Mr Sankoh's men on the move once again, this time driving around in commandeered UN armoured cars that were supposed to be protecting civilians.