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Sunday, 28 July, 2002, 18:40 GMT 19:40 UK
UK troops end Sierra Leone mission
British Royal Marines in Sierra Leone
The presence of the British was warmly welcomed
A low-key ceremony sent the British soldiers on their way from Sierra Leone on Sunday, more than two years after they came to offer help.

The Sierra Leone police band played at Freetown harbour and children sang a chorus of "Goodbye British Soldiers" as the Sir Geraint support ship left the docks.

Some 200 British troops have left Sierra Leone over the past two weeks.


Britain's investment in Sierra Leone has, up till now, culminated in one of its most successful foreign ventures in recent years

The BBC's Tom McKinley

It is thought their departure will cause some concern, after completing their mission to help end the country's 10-year civil war.

The BBC's Tom McKinley said: "When the British forces arrived in Sierra Leone in May 2000 the country breathed a sigh of relief. "

In just a few months the rebel force had lost its dominance and a massive United Nations peace keeping force began operating effectively.

Reduced

British soldiers began a task of re-training the Sierra Leone army.

In January this year the 10-year civil war was declared officially over, followed four months later by elections.

The British Government is satisfied that its military presence in the country can be reduced.

Over the past fortnight, the troops have been withdrawing from operations.

Former combatants hand over weapons for burning
Rebels have handed in their weapons

But not all the soldiers have departed - more than 100 will stay to continue training with the Sierra Leone army.

The British commander in Sierra Leone Brigadier Patrick Davison-Houston believes it is now safe for the British training teams to continue their job without additional British Army protection.

He was adamant that there was no need for Sierra Leoneans to worry.

'Successful'

If the security situation in Sierra Leone worsens, the British will step up its forces again, he said.

A British army presence in Sierra Leone was seen as guaranteed security.

And with the United Nations peacekeeping forced, it proved essential in ending the civil war.

"Britain's investment in Sierra Leone has, up till now, culminated in one of its most successful foreign ventures in recent years," said Tom McKinley.

See also:

16 Jan 02 | Africa
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25 Jun 02 | Country profiles
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