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Saturday, March 13, 1999 Published at 15:16 GMT

World: Africa

More children freed in Sierra Leone

In a goodwill gesture the rebels recieved medicines and food

Rebels of the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone say they have freed another group of children abducted during the battle for the capital, Freetown, in January.

United Nations officials say the handover of 21 youngsters took place on Friday at Newton, 24 miles (39 km) from the capital.

Sierra Leone
Correspondents say it signals a growing momentum in the country's peace process.

More than 50 children, many of whom are said to have been used by the rebels as fighters, have been released in the past week.

UN sources said that three adults had also been freed and that food and medicine was given to the rebels, in another peace gesture.

Informal discussions

[ image: Children were beleived to have become fighters]
Children were beleived to have become fighters
The head of the Sierra Leone Inter-Religious Council, Alimamy Koroma, said representatives of his council, United Nations military observers and two officers from a West African intervention force took charge of the children and brought them to Freetown.

He said that his team and the rebels had discussed peace prospects.

"We all sat on the ground and discussed the way forward for an everlasting peace in Sierra Leone," he said.

Leader urges peace

The jailed rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, has urged his commanders to free all civilians but, speaking to the BBC's Focus on Africa, he denied ordering a ceasefire.

Detained rebel leader Foday Sanko interviewed on Focus on Africa.
Sankoh said even if he had, his commanders on the ground would never obey such an order while he remained in jail.

"As long as I am in prison they will never obey any ceasefire. I have told the president about that."

The rebel leader denied rumours that he was taking anti-depressant medication and insisted that his commanders were listening to his instructions.

"I am discussing with them the peace accord. We have to talk with President Kabbah's government - we just have to negotiate. That is the only way - the military option will never succeed in Sierra Leone," he said.

President in talks

[ image: Kabbah: agreed to talks]
Kabbah: agreed to talks
President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah discussed peace prospects on Friday in Ivory Coast, saying he was ready to free Sankoh if that would bring peace.

Last week he emerged from a meeting with the UK Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, and the Nigerian military leader, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, saying he had to come to terms with the rebels who have brought the country to its knees.

Kabbah has sanctioned talks between Sankoh and his commanders. They are likely to be held in Togo, where rebel representatives have already been discussing the peace process.

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