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Thursday, February 12, 1998 Published at 16:20 GMT



World: Africa

Nigerians make final push for Freetown
image: [ There are growing food shortages in Freetown and fears of a major refugee crisis ]
There are growing food shortages in Freetown and fears of a major refugee crisis

Fighting in Sierra Leone between Nigerian troops of the West African ECOMOG force and fighters loyal to the country's military government has now reached the very heart of the capital, Freetown.

The commander of the Nigerian-led force in Sierra Leone, says his troops have captured major sections of the capital and expect to be in complete control within three days.

The BBC's correspondent in Freetown says fighting appears to be taking place for high ground on the outskirts of the city.

For nearly a week, the Nigerians have been trying to oust the military regime in Sierra Leone and restore the civilian government overthrown last year.


ECOMOG commander Colonel Maxwell Khobe talks to the BBC's Alex Brodie (1'50)
In a BBC interview, Colonel Khobe said there had been little resistance from the Sierra Leonean army.

Fears for civilian population


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

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.

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.

Shells have landed near the central prison and main hospital, already overwhelmed by the numbers of wounded people, mostly injured by shrapnel.

Over 3000 people have taken refuge in the compound of the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC.

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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