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The BBC's Jim Fish
"The news spread rapidly around the capital Freetown"
 real 28k

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

Wednesday, 17 May, 2000, 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK
What now for Sankoh?
Foday Sankoh
Some reports say Mr Sankoh was paraded naked
By Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason

UK Government officials say British troops in Freetown intervened to remove the rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, from a potentially life-threatening situation at the main police barracks.

Mr Sankoh is said to have been handed over to the United Nations force.

This is just the latest example of Britain's high profile involvement in the Sierra Leone crisis.

But the capture of Mr Sankoh poses more hard questions about the future of last year's peace agreement.


UN forces in Sierra Leone
Sankoh may be needed to help free the remaining UN hostages
Britain and the United States were among those who backed last year's controversial Lome peace agreement, which brought Foday Sankoh into the government and gave an amnesty to his Revolutionary United Front, the RUF.

But despite the rebels' breach of the agreement, British officials have been unwilling to say that Lome is dead.

Now Mr Sankoh has been captured, but he is probably still needed in the short term - the officials say - in order to secure the release of several hundred UN troops still being held by the rebels.

Priority

That was obviously one motive for British soldiers' making sure that he was not killed in an act of revenge. Beyond that, the British line is that it is hard to see what role he can usefully play in the peace process.

Clearly there is some furious thinking going on among international officials about what comes next, but also evidence of uncertainty.


British paratroops
British forces wanted Mr Sankoh alive
One said the priority was to get the UN force up to strength so that it could press ahead robustly with the implementation of the Lome agreement: that means disarming the rebels who still control much of Sierra Leone, including the diamond mines.

But another official said it was not within the UN's mandate to take on the rebels in armed combat.

Foday Sankoh is believed still to have enormous influence over the RUF, and some may be tempted to try to use him again to get it to disarm.

It is unlikely that the capture of the rebel leader has done anything to resolve Sierra Leone's underlying problems.

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See also:

17 May 00 | Africa
Rebel chief captured
12 May 00 | Africa
Foday Sankoh: Rebel leader
17 May 00 | Africa
UN peacekeepers fly to safety
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