Associated Press: Foday Sankoh, who led a devastating 10-year rebel campaign in Sierra Leone, has died while awaiting trial for war crimes, the United Nations said today.
Sankoh, 65, died late last night while in UN custody in a hospital in the capital Freetown, said David Hecht of the UN-Sierra Leone war crimes court.
Sankoh's death from natural causes granted him "a peaceful end that he denied to so many others", according to a statement from the office of the court's chief prosecutor, David Crane.
Sankoh had been unwell since his capture in early 2000. In June 2002, in one of his last court hearings in which he spoke, the rebel leader appeared dishevelled, in matted white dreadlocks.
"I'm a god," the handcuffed ex-warlord told court officials then. "I'm the inner God. I'm the leader of Sierra Leone."
Authorities announced in October 2002 he had suffered what they at first called a mild stroke. The war crimes court said in June it was pursuing a waiver on a UN travel ban against Sankoh so it could send him outside Sierra Leone for treatment.
The court's acting chief of defence, John Jones, said then that Sankoh was in a "catatonic, stuporous state".
Sankoh, a former wedding photographer turned soldier, trained in the cold war guerrilla camps of Muammar Gadafy.
His companions there included Charles Taylor, the president of neighbouring Liberia, who also has been indicted for his alleged role in supporting rebels in the Sierra Leone conflict.
Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front, founded in Libya in 1988-89, launched the insurgency in 1991, bent on winning control of Sierra Leone's government and diamond fields.
His drugged, drunk rebels became notorious for their heartlessness, killing, raping, maiming and kidnapping tens of thousands of civilians.
Under Sankoh, rebels made a trademark of hacking off the hands, feet, lips and ears of victims with machetes.
Sankoh was captured after his fighters gunned down more than a dozen protesters outside his Freetown home, and had been in UN custody in prisons and hospitals since.
The war was brought to an end through military intervention by Britain, Guinea and the United Nations crushed the rebels in early 2002.
Sankoh, born on October 17 1937, had faced a 17-count war-crimes indictment, as well as separate charges in a Sierra Leone national court.
His condition had slowed proceedings, and Sankoh's last appearances in court were in a wheelchair, with Sankoh unable to respond to questions.
The court statement said that despite Sankoh's death, prosecutors would attempt through other war-crimes trials to establish his "involvement in the atrocious deeds that have left a legacy of horror in the minds and memories of those who survived".
He is survived by his wife, Fatou Sankoh, and at least one daughter. News of his death was slow to break in Freetown, a city still bearing scars of the war. Sierra Leone's government refused to issue any immediate comment.