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Friday, May 28, 1999 Published at 02:39 GMT 03:39 UK

World: Africa

Sierra Leone ceasefire 'holding'

The UN says the ceasefire is holding

By Mark Doyle in Freetown

United Nations military observers in Sierra Leone say that a ceasefire which came into effect four days ago is holding as well as could be expected.
Sierra Leone

The government of Sierra Leone and the rebels accused the other of violating the ceasefire on the day it started, but both also said the violations were not bad enough to abandon the peace process.

If peace talks now taking place succeed, Sierra Leone could emerge from a civil war which has seen a level of atrocities against civilians almost unprecedented in Africa and destablised the whole West African region by drawing in soldiers and mercenaries from an array of countries.

Claims and counter-claims

Early in the week the rebels accused the government side of attacking them with helicopter gunships.

[ image:  ]
The government did obtain two powerful new attack helicopters before the ceasefire came into effect.

On Wednesday the government side accused the rebels of moving over two thousand troops nearer to the capital.

The UN investigated this claim and confirmed that some rebels have been on the move.

But the UN also obtained a commitment from the rebel commander concerned that there will be no more provocations of this sort.

Tension remains high

The situation is still extremely tense throughout the country, and because of the very limited number of UN observers committed to Sierra Leone, it is quite possible there are violations they do not know about.

Here in the capital there is a strict curfew in place and numerous roadblocks have been set up by government soldiers and militias to search for weapons.

The last time the rebels attacked Freetown in January they infiltrated thousands of armed men in the city and there is still clearly concern that this could happen again.

Before the ceasefire officially came into effect, there was considerable military activity as the two sides tried to consolidate their positions.

Military actions of this sort sometimes have a momentum which is difficult to stop.

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