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The BBC's Mark Doyle in Freetown
"The British troops are in Freetown itself"
 real 28k

UK Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook
"The UN force is currently about 3000 short of its mandated strength"
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Spokesman for the UN mission, David Wimshurst
"We are in a difficult position - we are staying firm"
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Monday, 8 May, 2000, 18:17 GMT 19:17 UK
UK orders Sierra Leone evacuation
Paratroopers prepare to board planes at RAF Brize Norton
More paratroopers leave the UK for Sierra Leone
Britons are to be evacuated from Sierra Leone under the protection of hundreds of paratroopers, UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has announced.

Mr Cook told the Commons that an evacuation plan had been activated and the British High Commission in the capital, Freetown, would be contacting British nationals.

The move comes as tension increases in the West African state after four protesters were killed in gunfire when thousands marched on the home of rebel leader Foday Sankoh.

Paratroopers currently form the UK's rapid reaction force
An advance force of about 250 British paratroopers arrived just outside the city earlier on Monday and began to secure the international airport.

More troops have been flown to nearby Senegal and warships including the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious will reach the area within days.

In a statement, Mr Cook told the House that the situation in Freetown was "tense" and all British residents - thought to number about 500 - were being advised to stay indoors while the High Commission contacted them through the local warden network.

He stressed that the military measures had been taken primarily "to respond quickly to safeguard the safety of British nationals", although securing the airport would also allow 3,000 more UN troops to enter the country.

A small number of EU and Commonwealth citizens will also be evacuated.

Sierra Leone crisis
2 May: Four Kenyan peacekeepers killed, 92 UN staff captured by rebels
3 May: Rebel leader Foday Sankoh promises to release prisoners
4 May: Six UN staff freed, 208 Zambian peacekeepers detained
6 May: 226 more Zambian troops reported missing
6/7 May: Confusion over reported assault on Freetown
7 May: US and UK advise nationals to leave
7 May: Britain sends military taskforce
8 May: Britain orders evacuation of its citizens

Mr Cook told MPs that Britain would continue to take the lead in restoring the peace process and added: "We must not allow a few thousand rebels to prevent the end to violence."

Shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude said the Conservatives "strongly supported" the decision to send UK troops to Sierra Leone.

But he asked Mr Cook to categorically state that the force had "one mandate, and one mandate only, to get the British nationals out".

He went on: "There would be no public support, I believe, for allowing British forces to be sucked into a civil war in Sierra Leone."

Mr Cook said the reason for the British force being in Sierra Leone would be under daily review.

He went on: "We will weigh the value of its presence against the security and safety of those who are in it."

Rapid reaction force

The British force is made up of the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment - about 700-800 men including support staff - which is currently the UK's Spearhead Battalion or rapid reaction force.

The helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, the frigate HMS Chatham and three support ships are making their way to the area carrying naval personnel and about 400 Royal Marine commandos.

HMS Illustrious has also been withdrawn from a Nato exercise "to be available as needed".

United Nations forces in Sierra Leone are trying to oversee the implementation of a 1999 peace accord, that Britain helped to broker, which ended an eight-year civil war and brought rebels from the Revolutionary United Front into government.

But the situation has worsened over the last few days with the UN accusing the rebels of capturing at least 300 of its soldiers and civilian staff and reporting that it has lost contact with another 200.

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08 May 00 | Africa
Sierra Leone protesters shot
08 May 00 | Africa
Q&A: Sierra Leone's hostages
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