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The BBC's Barnaby Philips
"Shots fired in rage and in grief"
 real 28k

Dr Julius Spencer, Sierra Leone Information Minister
"The UN force that is here has changed its posture"
 real 28k

Monday, 15 May, 2000, 09:33 GMT 10:33 UK
UN confirms troops' release
British and UN
British forces are helping the UN in Sierra Leone
The UN has confirmed that rebels in Sierra Leone have released some of the 500 UN peacekeepers being held hostage.

The spokesman for the UN forces in Sierra Leone, David Wimhurst, made the confirmation in an interview with the BBC but could not say whether all those released appeared to be in good health.

An earlier announcement of the releases was made by the former rebel leader turned President, Charles Taylor of neighbouring Liberia.



Mr Taylor has close relations with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone and is believed to wield considerable influence over the rebel leadership.

Mr Taylor said 124 UN troops were in the Liberian border town of Foya and a further 15 had been flown to Monrovia, Liberia's capital.

Reports say negotiations are under way to free the other UN hostages.

British plan

Earlier, the chief of staff of the British army, General Sir Charles Guthrie, arrived in Sierra Leone where he denied that Britain was taking the lead role in military action against the rebels.

He said the British troops were only supplying logistical support and advice to the UN.

"We are perfectly content to be working alongside the UN ... and we are certainly not commanding the Sierra Leone army," he said.



We are certainly not commanding the Sierra Leone army

General Guthrie
But the impression on the ground is that British army officers are co-ordinating the military efforts.

The BBC correspondent in Freetown, Mark Doyle, says Sierra Leoneans know that British are transporting soldiers loyal to the government to the front line, mounting reconnaissance operations and liasing with pro-government faction leaders.

General Guthrie also said he expected British troops to withdraw by mid-June when the United Nations force has been fully reinforced.

"I can't give you an actual date. If we had a plan we wouldn't tell you," he said.


British troops
The role of the British troops in Sierra Leone has been extended
Reports suggest that the people of Freetown are keen to see British paratroops remain in the country, but UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook had earlier reiterated that they were likely to leave within a month.

A task force of British warships carrying 800 Royal Marine commandos is anchored off the coast of Sierra Leone, but there are no plans at present for the soldiers to land.

Brigadier David Richards, commander of the British troops in Sierra Leone, described the RUF as "bullies".

'Bullies'

"This is not a formed-up professional army, their command and control is very ragged. They are bullies really, and a good sharp rap on the knuckles tends to send them away," he said.

Brigadier Richards added that RUF leader Foday Sankoh - whose whereabouts have been unknown for almost a week - seemed to be no longer controlling his forces and might even be dead.

"At least he is now out of commission and unable to regain the initiative," he said.

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See also:

14 May 00 | Africa
Rebels lose Sierra Leone town
13 May 00 | Africa
Above Sierra Leone's front line
11 May 00 | Africa
UN bolsters Freetown defences
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