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Saturday, 13 May, 2000, 01:48 GMT 02:48 UK
Above Sierra Leone's front line
Helicopter
British troops are supporting pro-government troops
By West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle aboard a Sierra Leone army helicopter

Pro-government forces in Sierra Leone, backed by British logistical support, have made significant advances against rebels of the Revolutionary United Front.

The pro-government forces have moved forward along a key road - between the towns of Waterloo and Masiaka - that leads to the capital, and known rebel positions have withdrawn.

The Sierra Leone army helicopter gunship flew fast and low over the jungle.

The pilot then said he had seen a small group of rebels and made his approach.

Rockets

I heard a blast of sound and saw a flash as a salvo of deadly rockets was fired. They exploded, the pilot said, in the right place.

Shortly before this shooting, I saw positions held by the government army in alliance with Nigerian United Nations troops.

The joint force had moved forward about 20 miles from positions they were known to hold the day before.

But there are no clear front lines. There are pockets of rebels throughout the country and they are a formidable force.

Troops morale

The pro-government soldiers, whose morale has been considerably bolstered by the arrival of British paratroopers, have made significant headway in the last few days.

While the military position is encouraging for the elected Sierra Leone Government, the humanitarian situation is yet another disaster in what is the poorest country in the world.

As I flew over the contested areas, I saw village after village burnt out and abandoned. A new refugee crisis and serious food shortages are clearly imminent.

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See also:

13 May 00 | Africa
Sierra Leone rebels forced back
11 May 00 | Africa
UN bolsters Freetown defences
10 May 00 | Africa
Africa's peacekeeping problem
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