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Tuesday, March 10, 1998 Published at 14:52 GMT

World: Africa

Jubilant homecoming for Sierra Leone president
image: [ Ahmed Tejan Kabbah has spent 10 months in exile ]
Ahmed Tejan Kabbah has spent 10 months in exile

The elected president of Sierra Leone, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, has returned home - ten months after he was forced into exile by a military coup.

He was met at the airport by members of the West African intervention force (ECOMOG) which helped restore his government to power. Mr Kabbah had been living in neighbouring Guinea since junior army officers seized power from him last May.

A BBC correspondent in Freetown say the speeches welcoming President Kabbah home evoked a new democratic start for Sierra Leone.

Music plays on the streets on Freetown (0'26")
"There's a party atmosphere in Freetown today," the correspondent says. "Bands are playing and people are singing as the symbol of democracy, the elected President, returns home."

However, the correspondent says the challenges ahead are huge. Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world and the democratic experiment is fragile.

He says Tejan Kabbah is mainly popular because of the democracy he symbolises rather than his political skills. The president may have an uphill task controlling the sometimes ruthless politicians of Sierra Leone.

[ image: Freetown: Clean-up]
Freetown: Clean-up
Residents of all ages cleaned streets across the shattered capital city, disfigured by the fighting and piles of accumulated rubbish.

Thousands of civil servants gathered outside government offices for pay cheques - their first in months - promised on Monday.

The BBC West Africa correspondent, who's in Freetown, says that while President Kabbah may have his critics, the ousted military regime was deeply unpopular.

In advance of the president's arrival, Freetown was surrounded with troops as a precautionary measure.

President Kabbah's victory in Sierra Leone's last multi-party elections three years ago ended four years of army rule.

Country remains unstable

Last May, a military junta led by Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma seized Freetown and President Kabbah was forced to flee the country.

ECOMOG was initially sent to police UN and ECOWAS economic sanctions against the military government.

The Nigerian-led forces, operating as a West African coalition army, have all but ousted the rebel forces from Sierra Leone's towns.

Its troops have announced the capture of the strategic military base of Daru, 270km (170 miles) east of Freetown, from forces loyal to the military junta ousted in February.

Kailahun, a city in the northeastern corner of the country, is believed to be the last remaining outpost of rebel control.

Conflict and insecurity in Sierra Leone since 1991 have killed an estimated 30,000 people and wrecked the country's economy, which relies on diamonds and other minerals.

Rebel leader vows to fight on

A commander of rebel forces in Sierra Leone has vowed to continue fighting against the ECOMOG intervention force.

Colonel Sam Bokari, who commands the Revolutionary United Front, dismissed reports that RUF forces were fighting their allies - troops of Colonel Johnny Paul Koroma's ousted military government - to prevent their surrender to ECOMOG.

Colonel Bokari, who spoke to the BBC on a mobile phone from an undisclosed location, said that he was in command of both components of the rebel forces.

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