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Tuesday, 9 May, 2000, 19:47 GMT 20:47 UK
Fear and anger in Freetown
British helicopter in Freetown
British and foreign nationals are being evacuated
By the BBC's Lansana Fofana in Freetown

The Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown, has been tense but generally calm since Monday's violent events around the residence of rebel leader Foday Sankoh in which four people died and and hundreds more were injured

Supporters of the rebel leader opened fire on tens of thousands of peace demonstrators who had marched on his home to demand that he respected the 1999 Lome peace accord.

Freetown protesters
About 10,000 people demonstrated for peace in Freetown
On Tuesday people have been going about their business, though many shops, offices and schools have remained closed for fear that there might be an eruption of violence.

Even where schools were opened many pupils and teachers did not attend because of fear and apprehension.

The streets are not as full as normal.

Enemies turned protectors

Overnight on Monday, there was no major trouble as the government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah deployed former Armed Forces Revolutionary Council and Sierra Leonean Army troops in many parts of the city.

Sierra Leone Army
Remnants of the Sierra Leone Army are now deployed in the city
It is these same troops who spearheaded a devastating invasion of the capital in January 1999 during which an estimated 5,000 people were killed and a quarter of all homes were destroyed.

The AFRC/SLA troops under the leadership of former junta leader Johnny-Paul Koroma had allied themselves to Mr Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front against President Kabbah's government and the regional military force Ecomog.

But that alliance has now broken down, and the two sides are reputed, by some people to be sworn enemies.

President Kabbah has issued a statement calling on people to be calm.

But many people have been leaving Freetown by boat and by air for neighbouring Guinea.

Sankoh mystery

The whereabouts of the rebel leader remain a mystery.

Foday Sankoh
Mr Sankoh's whereabouts remain a mystery
This has generated grave concern, apprehension and fear in the city.

People are concerned that if Mr Sankoh managed to flee the capital back into the jungle then that could mean a resumption of the brutal civil war.

Others are concerned that lack of information over his fate and whereabouts could become a pretext for his ruthless fighters in the bush to mount another devastating operation into the city, just like the one in January 1999.

Speculation is rife that Mr Sankoh may actually have been spirited away from his besieged residence by the UN forces here in a battle tank to the UN headquarters at Mamy Yoko Hotel.

Some eyewitnesses claimed to have seen him being whisked away by the UN troops.

The government has not said anything about the whereabouts of Mr Sankoh but on Tuesday morning some unconfirmed accounts claim he had been taken into protective custody by the Sierra Leonean Army.

Anger and disappointment

Many people, especially friends and relatives of those who were killed on Monday, have been expressing feelings of anger towards the MPs and members of the Civil Society Movement who organised Monday's march for peace.

British paratroopers
Many Sierra Leoneans thought British paratroopers would help restore order
They are angry that the organisers could attract their children to a march that ended so tragically.

There is also general disappointment in the city over the role of British Forces who are evacuating British and other foreign nationals from the tense city.

When people heard and saw British paratroopers landing many thought they had arrived to help restore peace and order in the country.

Sierra Leoneans remembered and recounted pledges of support from Britain.

When it was made clear that British forces would not be engaged in any direct military or combat action people begun to feel let down by Britain.

The UN group here Unamsil also appears to have lost much credibility and respect here after Monday's violence around Mr Sankoh's home.

Since the reported abduction and detention of some 500 UN troops by RUF rebels, public sympathy has been on the side of the UN.

But now people are angry with the UN.

They say Unamsil troops fired in the air to disperse the stone-throwing crowd around the Sankoh home but failed to stop Mr Sankoh's supporters from firing live ammunitions at the protesters.

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See also:

09 May 00 | Africa
UK considers paras' role
09 May 00 | Africa
Can the UN force restore peace?
04 May 00 | Africa
Renewed bid to free UN troops
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