On Wednesday the UN-backed Sierra Leone war crimes court convicted three former rebel leaders of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during one of the most brutal civil wars in modern history.

The rebels were known for asking their victims if they preferred long sleeves or short sleeves. They then cut off the hands of those who chose the first option and the full arm of those that picked the second.

Issa Sesay, Morris Kallon and Augustine Gbao from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a former rebel group, all denied having ordered and carried out a spree of killings, rapes and mutilations during the 11-year war which ended in 2002 to which about half-million people were victims.

All three had pleaded not guilty and shook their heads as the verdict was read.

Illicit diamond sales fueled the conflict, dramatized by the 2006 film Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

The diamond fields were controlled by rebels and sales of the gem were used to buy guns. The rebels were allegedly trained and backed by Charles Taylor, the warlord of neighboring Liberia.

The war left 120 000 people dead and tens of thousands mutilated with arms, legs, noses or ears cut off.