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Thursday, February 12, 1998 Published at 07:44 GMT

World: Africa

Fears for Sierra Leone refugees
image: [ These homeless children found refuge in an old factory ]
These homeless children found refuge in an old factory

Aid agencies have expressed increasing concern over the plight of half a million civilians in the Sierra Leone capital, Freetown.

ECOMOG commander Colonel Maxwell Khobe says his are forces are encountering little resistance (1'50)
Troops of the Nigerian-led regional intervention force, ECOMOG and their local militia allies are continuing an offensive against government forces in the city.

[ image: Refugees have been fleeing by boat]
Refugees have been fleeing by boat
The United Nations refugee agency says 1,400 people have reached Guinea by sea. More are expected soon as tens or thousands of civilians flee their homes.

BBC West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle says refugees are arriving in Guinea (0'43")
One report says 50 people fleeing the fighting drowned in a river north of the capital after their boat capsized. Local police said the boat struck a rock during bad weather.
[ image: The hospitals are filling with casualties]
The hospitals are filling with casualties
The French charity Medicins Sans Frontiers, one of the few aid organisations left in Freetown, says its has very little food and the main civilian hospital is running out of drugs.

The hospital has been overwhelmed by the numbers of wounded people, mostly injured by shrapnel.

One report said on Wednesday that 25 corpses had been taken to a mortuary in Freetown. Earlier reports said at least 25 people, including a dozen civilians, had been killed since fighting broke out.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also said it was "extremely concerned" about civilians in Freetown.

Warnings of food shortages

The United Nations World Food Programme says the fighting will have a disastrous effect on people already facing serious food shortages. It estimates nearly 250,000 Sierra Leoneans and Liberians now need urgent assistance.

Paul Ares, director of the World Food Programme for Sierra Leone, says the situation desperate (1'20")
The BBC's correspondent in Freetown says there is very little food available in the markets and prices have risen sharply. The only commercial bank operating since the coup in May closed on Monday.

Even before the latest fighting, imports to Sierra Leone were restricted by an economic embargo imposed soon after the coup.

Nigeria received a diplomatic mandate from the UN and West African heads of state to mount sanctions against the military government after it overthrew the elected civilian government last May.

UN calls for peace

The United Nations Security Council has called for an immediate end to the fighting and the restoration of the constitutional order.

After closed talks in New York, the council also said it was deeply concerned about the plight of the civilian population of Sierra Leone.

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  Internet Links

Sierra Leone - CIA World Factbook

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