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Tuesday, 7 December, 1999, 21:33 GMT
Gurkhas arrive in Sierra Leone

Crack Gurkha units have served in Kosovo and East Timor

By West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle

The Indian commander of the new United Nations peacekeeping force for Sierra Leone has arrived to take charge of a mission aimed at consolidating the country's peace agreement.

Sierra Leone
The West African state's decade-long war has left tens of thousands dead, and made some two million people homeless.

A UN spokesman said the new Indian commander, General Vijay Jetley, flew in with a first contingent of Indian army Gurkha troops who will form a key element in the peacekeeping operation.

Once the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone or Unamsil force is assembled, it will have about 1,000 Indians and a similar number of soldiers from Kenya.

But the bulk of the 6,000-strong force will be supplied from West African countries, and this is where the controversy lies.

Nigerian role

The West African soldiers, dominated by troops from Nigeria, have already been fighting in Sierra Leone for several years.

They have been backing the elected government against rebels accused of committing widespread atrocities against civilians.

Kenyan soldiers Kenyan peacekeepers were the first to arrive
The Nigerian-led West African force has had the broad support of the international community and has been praised by Sierra Leoneans for saving many lives.

But its neutrality as part of a UN force has been questioned by some rebel commanders.

Most Sierra Leoneons are sceptical about the rebels' intentions and say their complaints about the Nigerians' neutrality are just an excuse not to disarm as required under the peace agreement.

However the potential for difficulties remains. The Nigerians were asked to stay on in Sierra Leone by Britain and the United States because they and other countries feared a power vacuum.

Britain and the US are helping pay for the Nigerian presence but do not want to commit their own combat troops to a country which is of little strategic or political significance to the West.

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See also:
07 Dec 99 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Cleaning up the diamond badlands
30 Nov 99 |  Africa
UN troops arrive in Sierra Leone
25 Nov 99 |  Africa
British clean-up for Sierra police
12 Oct 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Gurkhas bring hope to Timor town
24 May 99 |  Africa
Analysis: Battle to rebuild shattered Sierra Leone
13 Feb 99 |  Africa
Grim facts of Sierra Leone's war

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