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The BBC's Jeremy Cooke in Sierra Leone
"The most feared and hated man in this country"
 real 28k

Julius Spencer, Sierra Leone Information Minister
"As far as I know he is under the control of the Sierra Leone government"
 real 28k

Geoff Hoon MP, Defence Secretary
"We simply responded to a request"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 17 May, 2000, 19:09 GMT 20:09 UK
Rebel leader in secret custody
Foday Sankoh in car
Sankoh (right) was bundled into a civilian car
Sierra Leonean rebel leader Foday Sankoh is being held at a secret location following his capture in the capital Freetown.

The country's Information Minister, Dr Julius Spencer, told the BBC that the rebel leader had been detained by police at his home and was now being held in an undisclosed location for his own protection.

"If the public knows where he is, it is going to be extremely difficult to keep him safe," Dr Spencer said.



We believe now he [Foday Sankoh] is back with us we can persuade him to send a message to his men to stop what they are doing

Information Minister Julius Spencer
Mr Sankoh - leader of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) - has spearheaded a violent eight-year military campaign against the government, in which thousands of people have been killed or maimed.

His fighters recently detained up to 500 United Nations personnel, over 300 of whom are believed to be still held hostage.

Dr Spencer said he hoped Mr Sankoh could be persuaded to "send a message" to his men to stop what they were doing, and if he refused "appropriate steps" would be taken.

Mr Sankoh was on Wednesday handed over to British forces who whisked him away in a military helicopter.


Celebration with soldier and civilian
Soldiers and crowds celebrated the arrest in Freetown
Eyewitnesses said Mr Sankoh was paraded naked in the street by Sierra Leonean soldiers before he was handed over.

Witnesses have told journalists he was spotted next door to his home early on Wednesday, and local residents tipped off the authorities.

Reports say Mr Sankoh was wounded in the leg during the brief gun battle which followed, and is said to have been stripped naked before being taken to military headquarters.

He was taken onto the British helicopter on a stretcher.

Fighting

The arrest came shortly before reports of new clashes involving RUF rebels.


Capture of Sankoh
Mr Sankoh is held near his home early on Wednesday after a brief gun battle
Wounded in the leg, he is stripped and driven to a barracks
A crowd surrounds the building, sparking fears for Mr Sankoh's life
British special forces are seen entering the building
Mr Sankoh is carried out by stretcher and put on a British helicopter
In one incident, three rebels were shot dead by British paratroops 10 miles east of the main airport, Lungi, the UK Government said.

The incident, in the early hours of Wednesday, is thought to be the first time that Britain's 800-strong paratroop force, sent to Sierra Leone last week, has been drawn into combat.

In the second clash, rebels killed a UN peacekeeper and six Sierra Leonean soldiers in an attack on Port Loko, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of the capital, the UN said.

Jubilation

Mr Sankoh went missing last week after a massive anti-RUF demonstration turned violent outside his house. Some 19 people were killed when his bodyguards opened fire on the crowd.

Hundreds of people celebrated outside the gates of the barracks where Mr Sankoh was taken immediately after his arrest as soldiers armed with rocket launchers and automatic rifles tried to maintain order.


Sierra Leone peace demonstrators
Demonstrators were fired on by Mr Sankoh's bodyguards
A four-wheel-drive vehicle containing British troops collected Mr Sankoh from the barracks.

Since his disappearance there had been fears that Mr Sankoh could re-join his fighting forces in the jungle and attacks would intensify.

The RUF has in recent weeks violated a peace accord by refusing to lay down its guns.

The rebels have released 139 of the UN peacekeepers who were taken hostage two weeks ago.

Partial breakthrough

Some of them arrived back in Freetown via Liberia early on Wednesday but the RUF still holds about 350 others.

Another 46 peacekeepers and military observers are still in Liberia, waiting to return.

The partial breakthrough in the hostage crisis came after negotiations involving the President of Liberia, Charles Taylor.

Between 30 and 40 of the remaining hostages are suffering from illnesses and injuries, including gunshot wounds, President Taylor said.

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See also:

12 May 00 | Africa
Foday Sankoh: Rebel leader
17 May 00 | Africa
What now for Sankoh?
17 May 00 | Africa
Foday Sankoh's vanishing act
17 May 00 | Africa
UN peacekeepers fly to safety
13 May 00 | Africa
Above Sierra Leone's front line
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