Friday, January 8, 1999 Published at 13:36 GMT
Freetown tense for ceasefire
A distraught woman looks for her son in the rush to leave Freetown
The BBC Correspondent in Sierra Leone, Mark Doyle, says the people of Freetown are terrified.
But in a recorded message, Mr Sankoh told his forces to keep their defensive positions.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Emeka Ayaoku told the BBC he had met representatives of the rebels, and had encouraged them to support the ceasefire.
Chief Ayaoku also called on the international community to support peace efforts, as well as to throw its weight behind efforts to shore up democracy in Sierra Leone.
President Kabbah said if the truce was observed, he would release Mr Sankoh from jail.
This has been one of the major demands of the rebels, but correspondents say it is not clear whether they will follow his orders once released.
But a senior rebel commander, Sam Bockarie, said he would only respect the truce if he saw Mr Sankoh face-to-face.
Mr Kabbah earlier tried to make contact with the rebels, which analysts said suggested he believed the conflict could not be solved by military means.
The rebels had expressed a willingness to talk, but called on the president to resign.
A fierce battle for control of Freetown has been raging for two days, with the government backed by thousands of troops from Nigerian-led intervention force Ecomog.
Ecomog drove the rebels from Freetown last year and restored the democratically-elected government to power. But they have been losing ground to the rebels in the past month.
On Thursday, parts of the capital were reported to be ablaze after the rebels started setting fire to the homes of people who did not support them.
Earlier reports said that they held strategic points in the east and centre of Freetown. The UN has pulled its staff out of the city.
A witness said that at least 17 people had been killed when fighter jets from Ecomog bombed a rebel-held street.