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Thursday, 6 September, 2001, 12:23 GMT 13:23 UK
Sierra Leone names elections date
Sierra Leone President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah
Tejan Kabbah wants security before elections
The government of war-ravaged Sierra Leone has named 14 May 2002 as the day when presidential and parliamentary elections will be held, resisting calls from rebels for an interim government.

Elections scheduled for this year were postponed due to insecurity caused by 10 years of civil war characterised by atrocities against civilians.

Hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leonians have fled the war, causing a refugee crisis in neighbouring Guinea.

British paratroopers on first arrival in Sierra Leone
British troops to be cut down
Security is gradually being restored by the deployment of a United Nations peace-keeping force all over the country, including the rebel controlled diamond areas in the east.

This is the largest peace mission currently being undertaken by the UN.

President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah had said it was necessary to postpone the elections until the disarmament process that accompanies the current ceasefire is complete, because voters would not feel secure until this was done.

Disarming

Since the ceasefire, rebels and pro-government militia groups have been disarming, a process due to end in November this year.

The Revolutionary United Front rebels have given a luke-warm response to the election date though they have not rejected it out of hand.

Corporal Foday Sankoh, RUF founder
Foday Sankoh may be charged with committing war crimes

They and the political opposition groups have called for an interim government to oversee the election process, claiming this would make for a fairer playing field.

Britain, which supports Mr Kabbah's administration, recently announced that it was reducing the number of its troops in Sierra Leone because the security situation had improved.

Their presence is widely believed to be the only thing which stopped the rebels seizing power during attacks last year.

Rebels released

Meanwhile, the government says it has released another thirty-one leading rebels, in recognition of the progress made by the RUF in honouring peace accords signed last November.

The move was announced by the attorney-general, Solomon Berewa, on the eve of a new round of talks on Thursday aimed at bringing the conflict to an end.

The RUF says it is also trying to turn into a political party and needs its leaders to be released.

Many have already been freed but the founder of the rebel army, Foday Sankoh, remains in custody, awaiting an expected war crimes trial.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC interview with Cecil Blake govt spokesman
"There is no design by this government to hold on to power for its sake"
BBC interview with Gibril Massaquoi rebel spokesman
"We are no longer going to war"
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