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The BBC's Barnaby Phillips
"Evacuation has started"
 real 28k

The BBC's Mark Doyle in Freetown
"Shooting in the hills behind me throughout the night"
 real 28k

The BBC's Sian Williams
"Sierra Leone used to be peaceful and prosperous"
 real 28k

Monday, 8 May, 2000, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
Sierra Leone protesters shot
RUF soldiers shoot
RUF fighters opened fire on the crowd
Four people are reported to have been killed in shooting as thousands of civilians marched on the Freetown home of Sierra Leonean rebel leader Foday Sankoh.

Mr Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) has been accused of taking hostage several hundred United Nations peacekeeping troops who are in Sierra Leone to oversee the rebels' disarmament.


Sierra Leone crisis
2 May: Four Kenyan peacekeepers killed, 92 UN staff captured by rebels
3 May: Rebel leader Foday Sankoh promises to release prisoners
4 May: Six UN staff freed, 208 Zambian peacekeepers detained
6 May: 226 more Zambian troops reported missing
6/7 May: Confusion over reported assault on Freetown
7 May: US and UK advise nationals to leave
7 May: Britain sends military taskforce
Soldiers have since Sunday arrested several RUF members - including a government minister - in connection with an alleged coup plot against President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.

The United Kingdom has meanwhile announced the evacuation of UK citizens from Sierra Leone.

The missing UN peacekeepers are part of a force sent to Sierra Leone to enforce a peace deal signed last year by President Kabbah and the RUF - a deal which has recently appeared close to collapse amid repeated violations by the rebels.

Shooting broke out outside Mr Sankoh's Freetown home, which is guarded both by UN soldiers and RUF fighters, after thousands of people gathered to denounce the RUF.

Our correspondent Barnaby Phillips says there was a "charged" mood in the crowd, with some people calling for Mr Sankoh and his supporters to be forcibly disarmed.


Sierra Leone who's who
Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
Elected president overthrown in a 1997 coup
Restored in 1998 with Nigerian help

Johnny-Paul Koroma
Army chief who led 1997 coup
Led AFRC junta
Now supporting Kabbah again

Foday Sankoh
Led RUF rebellion against Kabbah
Formerly allied with Koroma
Entered government after Lome accord

Eyewitnesses say the UN guards fired shots into the air to disperse the crowd, after some individuals threw stones at the house.

The RUF guards fired into the crowd using automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.

'Coup plot'

Trade Minister Mike Lamin was among several RUF officials detained for questioning by the military police in connection with an alleged plot to overthrow President Kabbah.


Civilians march
Thousands marched calling for peace
Mr Lamin was one of the RUF members who gained cabinet seats in exchange for a rebel ceasefire, as part of the peace accord signed by the government and the RUF in Lome last year.

Reports say Mr Lamin was arrested on Sunday, later released and then re-arrested. It is not known whether he has again been released.

The arrest was ordered by Johnny-Paul Koroma - the army commander who himself staged a coup against President Kabbah in 1997 - but who has now declared his loyalty to the president following the restoration of civilian rule.

Mr Koroma said the arrests had been authorised by President Kabbah "to put things on course again" - a reference to the Lome peace agreement.

Militia

On Sunday, both the president and Mr Koroma hinted that it might be necessary for Sierra Leonean loyalists to offer armed resistance against a rebel attack.



We are not offering guns at the moment. We are saying that we cannot sit by and see this country be torn apart

Johnny-Paul Koroma
The UN has been putting diplomatic pressure on Mr Sankoh and on neighbouring leaders to resolve the crisis, but there are no immediate plans to increase its military presence.

Addressing the nation on Sunday, Mr Sankoh sought to assure citizens that the government had "an effective contingency plan in place which will be activated in the unlikely event that Unamsil is unable to provide adequate security in the face of aggressive action".

He gave no further details.

Mr Koroma told the BBC that "we just have to find ways and means to defend the people and ourselves", involving various civilian militia groups.

Asked whether this would involve the army handing out weapons, Mr Koroma replied: "We are not offering guns at the moment. We are saying that we cannot sit by and see this country be torn apart."

Britons to leave

UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told parliament that an evacuation plan had been activated and the British High Commission in Freetown would be contacting British nationals.

An advance force of about 250 British paratroopers arrived just outside the city earlier on Monday and began to secure the international airport.

More troops have been flown to nearby Senegal and warships including the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious will reach the area within days.

On Saturday night British military advisers flew into Sierra Leone to advise the UN on its operation there.

The team of about a dozen men will be based in Freetown, where they will assess the technical support needed to enhance the effectiveness of the UN's 8,000-strong force.

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04 May 00 | Africa
Renewed bid to free UN troops
01 May 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Farewell to the general
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