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The BBC's Barnaby Phillips
"In Freetown the British intervention seems popular"
 real 28k

Sunday, 14 May, 2000, 02:03 GMT 03:03 UK
Rebels lose Sierra Leone town
Pro-government troops in Masiaka
Pro-government forces are uniting
Pro-government forces in Sierra Leone have continued to advance against rebels forces who are holding 500 UN peacekeepers hostages.

The troops entered the strategic town of Masiaka, 60km (40 miles) east of the capital, Freetown, on Saturday - five days after the city had fallen under rebel control.

The jubilant advancing forces were seen by journalists firing in the air while bodies of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels lay by the roadside.

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: 1,100 paras in Freetown, naval flotilla
British troops have been providing organisational support for the pro-government soldiers advance.

The BBC's West Africa correspondent says the British have been crucial in co-ordinating the bewildering array of pro-government forces.

They include UN soldiers, two sometimes mutually hostile parts of the Sierra Leone army and pro-government militias.

Six British warships, with 800 marines aboard, are off Sierra Leone and the British chief of the defence staff, Sir Charles Guthrie, is due to arrive in Freetown later on Sunday.

Coup plot

Earlier, the authorities in Sierra Leone made public documents which they said showed that RUF leader Foday Sankoh had been preparing a coup.

Attorney-General Solomon Berewa told journalists the government had discovered this from documents found in Mr Sankoh's house.

"He was planning to stage a very violent and bloody coup this week, but for the grace of God that did not happen," Mr Berewa said.

Mr Sankoh is officially a member of the government, but has been missing since a peace protest outside his house on Monday.

When demonstrators tried to enter the building, RUF fighters fired into the crowd, killing at least seven people.

Twelve others died in the fighting and confusion that followed.

Mr Sankoh disappeared

Mr Sankoh, who had briefly peered out from his porch when the shooting started, disappeared shortly afterwards.

Pro-government troops in Masiaka
Pro-goverment soldiers were seen firing in the air
His house was ransacked by the enraged crowd, and government investigators have since been sifting through the documents found there.

The attorney-general said these provided evidence of the coup plan, and some of Mr Sankoh's associates had been providing more details of it.

He said they also showed that Mr Sankoh had been selling diamonds and buying weapons after the signing of last year's peace accords.

He said that the protest had upset the coup plan.

State funerals were held on Friday for the 19 people killed, whom the government has described as national martyrs.

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See also:

14 May 00 | Africa
General visits Sierra Leone
13 May 00 | Africa
Sierra Leone rebels forced back
13 May 00 | Africa
Annan praises UK troops
11 May 00 | Africa
UN bolsters Freetown defences
10 May 00 | Africa
Where is Foday Sankoh?
10 May 00 | Africa
Brutal child army grows up
10 May 00 | Africa
Nigeria sets intervention terms
09 May 00 | Africa
Can the UN force restore peace?
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