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Sunday, May 31, 1998 Published at 01:19 GMT 02:19 UK

World: Africa

Amnesty for rebel fighters

President Kabbah announced the amnesty on television

Rebels loyal to the ousted military junta in Sierra Leone have been offered an amnesty.

Interior Minister Charles Margai says he will personally guarantee the safety of any rebel soldier who surrenders in the next two weeks.

The rebels have continued fighting in the east of the country since Johnny Paul Koroma was driven from power in February.

President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah's offer comes as civilian casualty figures mount.

More than 300 maimed civilians have been treated during the past month at hospitals in the capital of Freetown and the central town of Makeni.

The United Nations Children's Fund says the rebels have been hacking off the arms and legs of civilians - mostly women and children.

Other international agencies and foreign governments say thousands of civilians have been killed or maimed in recent months in Sierra Leone.

President Kabbah was forced to flee Sierra Leone a year ago this month after Major Koroma staged a bloody military coup.

But Mr Kabbah returned triumphantly in March after the Nigerian-led West African intervention force drove the junta from Freetown. .

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