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Friday, June 11, 1999 Published at 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK

World: Africa

Sierra Leone talks deadlocked

The fragile ceasefire has just about held

After three weeks of talks there is still little sign of a breakthrough in the Sierra Leone peace process.

Sierra Leone
The talks in Lome between the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the Sierra Leonean Government are at an impasse over rebel demands for a coalition government and the pullout of West African forces within 14 days.

Sierra Leone's President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah on Friday told MPs in Freetown he was firmly opposed to the withdrawal of the Nigerian-led West African intervention force saying Ecomog would remain in the war-torn country for "as long as possible".

Correspondents say Nigeria's new president, Olusegun Obasanjo, has been coming under foreign pressure not to pull his troops out. They make up about 80% of the force.

President Kabbah's government is also opposed to the prospect of incorporating the RUF into a transitional government. They are said to view it as tantamount to surrender and say it would violate the constitution.

[ image: Has financial backing from the west and military support from Nigeria]
Has financial backing from the west and military support from Nigeria
A correspondent at the talks says the mood in recent days has been one of despondency.

The current Chairman of the West African grouping, Ecowas, Togolese President Gnassingbe Eyadema has been drafted in to hold separate talks with both sides to encourage more flexibility.

Diplomats say the rebel demands are unrealistic.

At the talks, rebel leader Fodoy Sankoh has said that despite the difficulties he feels sure the talks will continue.

Guinea raid

Meanwhile Guinea says its soldiers have killed up to 400 Sierra Leonean rebels in a recent cross border retaliatory raid.

Guinean Defence Minister Dorank Diasseny said it took the action because of repeated Sierra Leonean rebel attacks, mostly on the Guinean villages of Tassin and Mola, close to the Sierra Leone border.

He said rebels have been attacking villages in search of food.

"Our soldiers entered far into their lines, identified the rebel posts and then conducted their punitive operation," he said in a French radio interview.

The nine-year rebel war in Sierra Leone has, according to UN estimates, made more than 1.5 million people homeless and devastated almost all economic and social structures in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Around 5,000 people were killed in the rebels' latest attempt to capture the capital in January.

Therefore, the government was forced to enter peace talks with them, despite heavy military backing from the West African giant, Nigeria, and financial support from Britain and the United States.

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Internet Links

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