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The BBC's Mark Doyle
"The strategic situation in Sierra Leone has changed"
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The BBC's Jonathan Marcus
"British defence sources insist that the mission of British troops in Sierra Leone has not changed"
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Saturday, 13 May, 2000, 01:53 GMT 02:53 UK
Sierra Leone rebels forced back
woman mourner
Emotional funeral for the anti-rebel demonstrators
Pro-government forces in Sierra Leone have pushed rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) back from positions near the capital Freetown.

With logistical and co-ordination support from Britain, the pro-government troops have moved forward along a key road between the towns of Waterloo and Masiaka, that leads to the capital.

A joint force of Sierra Leonean soldiers and Nigerian UN troops has advanced about 30km from positions they held on Thursday.

The government advances come as the British Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Charles Guthrie, prepares to visit Freetown this weekend.

Honour the dead

Earlier, state funerals had been held for the 19 people killed on Monday outside the house of the rebel leader, Foday Sankoh.

At least 10,000 mourners gathered at the National Stadium, in Freetown, to honour the dead, who the government described as national martyrs.

Anti-rebel protest march
The fatal march: Nineteen died

They were killed when thousands of peace demonstrators gathered outside Mr Sankoh's house to protest against the rebels' continued detention of the 500 UN peacekeepers.

RUF fighters fired into the crowd, killing at least seven people; others died in the fighting and confusion that followed.

The rebel leader disappeared after the fighting.

Friends and relatives of the dead wept and threw themselves to the ground in grief as the coffins, draped in Sierra Leone's national flag, were driven into the stadium.

One woman, Mary Lake, whose son and foster-son had been killed by the rebels, cried: "Let Foday Sankoh face the international [criminal] tribunal!"

President Kabbah told the mourners that the 19 had died for freedom and democracy.

"We must make sure that we do not forget the principles for which they died," he said.

'Window of opportunity'

With the confrontation between United Nations troops and rebels continuing, British officials say that extra UN troops will be flown into Sierra Leone over the next few days.

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: 8,900 peacekeepers, rising to 11,100
UK: 1,000 paras in Freetown, naval flotilla

They say battalions from Jordan, India and Bangladesh will bring the UN force up to its planned strength of more than 11,000 troops, from its current level of 8,900.

The RUF rebels are estimated to number some 15,000 fighters in all.

BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus says the view in London seems to be that the window of opportunity seized by Mr Sankoh may now be closing.

Three-hour battle

Meanwhile news has emerged from southern Sierra Leone of a three-hour battle between UN peacekeepers and Revolutionary United Front rebels.

According to civilians who fled the latest fighting on the main road between Freetown and Bo, the RUF attacked on two fronts, but were beaten back by the Guinean UN troops fighting alongside pro-government militias.

Truckloads of pro-government reinforcements were seen heading for the area, near a town called Mile 91.

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See also:

13 May 00 | Africa
Annan praises UK troops
13 May 00 | Africa
Above Sierra Leone's front line
13 May 00 | Africa
Who are Sierra Leone's rebels?
10 May 00 | Africa
Africa's peacekeeping problem
11 May 00 | Africa
UN bolsters Freetown defences
12 May 00 | Africa
Africa Media Watch
10 May 00 | Africa
Brutal child army grows up
10 May 00 | Africa
Where is Foday Sankoh?
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