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The BBC's Mark Doyle
"In political terms the world body has failed Africa again"
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The BBC's Barnaby Phillips reports
" The role of the British soldiers in the Sierra Leonean crisis is growing increasingly intriguing"
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The BBC's Mark Devenport at the UN
"Annoyance amongst some troop-contributing nations over criticism of their soldiers' performance"
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Thursday, 11 May, 2000, 07:24 GMT 08:24 UK
UN bolsters Freetown defences
UK troops in Sierra Leone
The role of UK troops in Sierra Leone is changing
United Nations peacekeepers and British troops have strengthened defensive positions around Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, to repel any attempt to take the city by the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

The move comes as the UN prepares to bolster its peacekeeping contingent with 1,700 reinforcements.



We hope that it is not going to come to a pitched battle, but in effect we are preparing for one

UN spokesman Fred Eckhard
Canada has committed itself to ferrying the extra soldiers from India and Bangladesh to Freetown within the next 48 hours.

The government of Sierra Leone has said its army has been successful in pushing the rebels back in some areas.

Defensive positions

The UN and British defensive positions are around the villages of Hastings and Waterloo, on the main road leading out of Freetown.

The BBC's Barnaby Phillips in Freetown says if the RUF rebels were to try to take the city, they would probably have to advance up this road.

Balance of forces
Rebels: Up to 20,000, including 10,000 combat troops
Army: At least 3,000 poorly-armed troops
Pro-government Kamajors: 15,000 militiamen
UN: 8,700 peacekeepers, rising to 11,100
UK: 700 paras, 600 marines, naval flotilla
"We'll do what we have to do to defend ourselves and the government. We hope that it is not going to come to a pitched battle, but in effect we are preparing for one," UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said at the UN's headquarters in New York.

The role of the British soldiers in the Sierra Leone crisis appears to be expanding.

The UK had previously said that it would not commit its troops to combat, saying they were there for the specific purpose of evacuating UK nationals.

Correspondents say it now appears the UK paratroopers are active in defending the capital city, alongside the UN. British troops have been seen 20km outside Freetown, manning roadblocks at key junctions, not evacuating foreigners.

Sierra Leone's information minister, Dr Julius Spencer, who had earlier complained about the failure of Western nations to come to the rescue of his beleaguered government, told the BBC he was now satisfied with the British contribution.

Refugees heading for
Thousands of refugees headed into the capital on Wednesday
The situation in the Freetown peninsula is significantly calmer, but our correspondent says the rest of the country remains highly unstable.

Despite British logistical support, the UN peacekeeping force is hampered by poor communications and lack of equipment. The RUF rebels are still holding 500 UN soldiers hostage.

Reinforcements

The reinforcements being flown in are part of an effort to bring the intended 11,000-strong UN force up to full strength.

Canada accepted a request from the UN to airlift 1,772 Indian and Bangladeshi peacekeepers to Sierra Leone.

Foday Sankoh
Foday Sankoh has been missing since Monday
The Canadian Government said planes would depart within the next 48 hours to transport the troops from New Delhi and Dhaka to Lungi airport in Sierra Leone.

The United States and Russia have said they will help with transport and fly in supplies and some extra Jordanian troops, possibly by the weekend.

Nigeria and other west African states say they are willing to take part in a UN force if asked.

Refugees fear attack

The flow of refugees into Freetown has abated. Thousands of refugees headed into the city to escape from a reported rebel advance.

Fears of an attack on Freetown have been increased by the disappearance of RUF leader, Foday Sankoh.

Some people fear the rebel leader may be in the bush, preparing to launch an offensive which would lead to a complete resumption of the nation's brutal civil war.

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See also:

10 May 00 | Africa
Nigeria sets intervention terms
09 May 00 | Africa
Can the UN force restore peace?
10 May 00 | Africa
Brutal child army grows up
10 May 00 | Africa
Where is Foday Sankoh?
09 May 00 | Africa
BBC's key role in Sierra Leone
04 May 00 | Africa
Renewed bid to free UN troops
10 May 00 | UK Politics
Cook faces Sierra Leone dilemma
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