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The BBC's Helen Wade
"The role of British troops have gone beyond that of evacuation"
 real 28k

The BBC's Andrew Gilligan in Freetown
"Sankoh didn't make it more than a few hundred yards from his home"
 real 28k

Lieutenant Colonel Paul Gibson, Parachute Regiment
"Everyday one can see the UN confidence returning"
 real 28k

Thursday, 18 May, 2000, 04:45 GMT 05:45 UK
Arrest threat to UN releases
Foday Sankoh
Foday Sankoh's detention poses problems
The United Nations says it is concerned that the arrest of the Sierra Leonean rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, could complicate the release of hundreds of UN peacekeepers still held by his followers.

The rebels have released a further group of 80 UN peacekeepers but more than 250 still remain captive.

Mr Sankoh, the leader of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF), spearheaded a long and violent rebellion against the government, but then joined it under a peace agreement concluded last year.

The RUF leader, who had been in hiding for more than a week, was arrested early on Wednesday by pro-government militiamen in the capital, Freetown, and taken away by British military helicopter.

UN forces in Sierra Leone
About 270 US staff are still held hostage by the RUF

Britain has now introduced a resolution at the United Nations calling for the ceiling on the UN peackeeping force to be raised to 13,000 to accommodate possible West African reinforcements. The British military has been mounting a show of strength outside the capital since coming under attack from rebels.

The Sierra Leonean information minister, Julius Spencer, told the BBC that Mr Sankoh was being held at a secret location under government custody for his own protection.

Sankoh's role

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

A UN spokesman, Fred Eckhart, said the United Nations was relieved that it now knew where Mr Sankoh was. But he said it was too soon to forecast what role, if any, Foday Sankoh might play in the Sierra Leonean political process.

The arrest actually presents as many problems as it solves, because any rebels may react negatively

The BBC's Mark Doyle

The BBC West Africa correspondent, Mark Doyle, who is in Freetown, says the rebel leader's arrest "actually presents as many problems as it solves, because any rebels still active in the bush may react negatively" to it.

"It will be very difficult for politicians here to deal in a firm way with Foday Sankoh without angering the rebels," he said.

UN hostages

The RUF rebels originally detained about 500 United Nations peace-keepers two weeks ago, but a number of them have been freed in batches.

Mr Sankoh's arrest coincided with an upsurge in fighting in Sierra Leone.

British and UN reports said there had been two attacks on the approaches to Freetown airport in the past 24 hours.

The RUF used amputation as a terror tactic

UN forces came under fire during a two-hour gun battle on Tuesday night in the town of Port Loco, north of the capital, in which one UN soldier, a Nigerian, and six government troops were killed.

Then on Wednesday morning, British forces based nearer to the airport said they came under fire from a group of 40 advancing rebels, and killed four of them.

It 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.

Our correspondent says that it is not clear whether the attempted rebel advances are linked to Foday Sankoh's arrest, or what effect his capture will have on the RUF.

But he says that on a previous occasion when Mr Sankoh was under arrest for several years, the rebels continued to fight effectively without him.

RUF cells

It is known that the RUF is composed of many different cells - but reports differ over whether Foday Sankoh was the only man who knew what all the cells were doing, or whether even he did.

Senior British military officials said they did not know who was running the RUF, what the chain of command was or how many disparate elements there were.

Celebration with soldier and civilian
Soldiers and crowds celebrated the arrest in Freetown

Foday Sankoh's arrest was welcomed by jubilant Freetown residents after the many rumours that followed his disappearance last week.

Pro-government forces confronted Mr Sankoh and his bodyguards, and the rebel leader was wounded in the leg in the brief gun battle that followed.

Reports say that he was stripped naked before being taken to military headquarters, where he was taken onto the British helicopter on a stretcher.

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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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