Sierra Leone's former president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, widely credited for ending an 11-year civil war, died at the age of 82 after along illness.

The present government said in a statement on Thursday that Kabbah's death was an "irreparable loss" to the West African nation and it declared a week of national mourning.

Kabbah, a long-time UN official, won the presidency in 1996, ending a decade of military rule. He was briefly ousted in a military coup the following year before being restored to power by a West African regional force.

He coaxed Sierra Leone through a peace process that ended the brutal civil war in 2002, with the help of UN forces and a military intervention by former colonial power Britain.

He was re-elected by a landslide the same year. The civil war had made Sierra Leone a watchword for brutality, with the drugged child soldiers of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels chopping off the hands and feet of civilians.

About 50,000 people died in the conflict, which devastated the country's infrastructure.

At the end of his second term in 2007, Kabbah won praise for peacefully handing power to the opposition when his Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) lost elections.

Kabbah was lauded for establishing democratic institutions, though his critics said he did not do enough to tackle widespread corruption in one of the world's poorest countries.

Source: Reuters