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Mark Doyle:
"A rebel spokesman said Britain was supporting a group of criminal politicians"
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The BBC's Helen Wade
"Britains role in the conflict has gone far beyond just an evacuation force"
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Friday, 19 May, 2000, 04:26 GMT 05:26 UK
Concern over missing UN troops
Jordanian UN troops arrive at Lungi airport
Jordanian UN troops arrive at Lungi airport
The United Nations says it is concerned about the condition of some 30 to 40 peacekeepers abducted by rebels in Sierra Leone.

The UN spokesman in Sierra Leone, David Wimhurst, told the BBC that he did not know how serious their injuries might be, and that they were extremely worried about the more than 200 peacekeepers still being held by rebels.

Another 13 peacekeepers have arrived in the Sierra Leone capital Freetown, from neighbouring Liberia. These are the first of 80 who were reportedy allowed to cross into Liberia on Wednesday.

The UN is expected to decide in the next few days whether to send more troops to Sierra Leone. West African ministers decided on Thursday to send an additional 3,000 troops to work with the UN.


The relationship between UN officials and the British military, which is credited with restoring some order to the region, has become strained over the whereabouts of the rebel leader Foday Sankoh.

The officials say that Britain is not co-operating with efforts to locate Mr Sankoh who was detained on Wednesday - and was last seen in public at Freetown airport, protected by British soldiers.

A senior UN official said the peacekeepers had asked the British army to reveal the location of Mr Sankoh, because the UN thinks he might be persuaded to tell his men to stop their offensive.

British soldier in Freetown
British troops have boosted UN moral in Sierra Leone
But British spokesmen say he is in the custody of the Sierra Leonean police.

Vague answers

The UN official said he was given generally vague answers by British officers.

A BBC correspondent in Freetown, Mark Doyle, says that the British have in their public statements consistently underplayed their role in the war.

He says that it is an open secret in Freetown that British troops have saved the UN from humiliation at the hands of the rebels.

But it is not clear why the British troops are being so secretive about Mr Sankoh's location.

Meanwhile, the rebels have accused Britain of joining what they call a criminal conspiracy against them.

A rebel spokesman told the BBC that Britain should clarify whether its troops in Sierra Leone are part of the UN peacekeeping force or not.

Our correspondent says the accusation reflects a significant strand of public opinion in Sierra Leone despite the fact that rebels have committed horrific atrocities against civilians.

British force

The British forces have stepped up their presence in Freetown, in what is being seen as a warning to rebels not to mount any further attacks.

The show of strength follows a clash near Freetown's Lungi airport on Wednesday between the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front, RUF, and British paratroops.

Released UN hostages
Some of the released UN personnel needed medical attention
Four rebels were killed by the paratroops after the group of 40 opened fire on a British position about 20km from the airport.

UN spokesman David Wimhurst said the British show of force might have some psychological effect on the rebels.

A BBC correspondent in Freetown, Mike Donkin, says there is speculation that, sooner or later, UN troops might try to push rebel forces further back from the city.

The UN remains concerned that the capture of Mr Sankoh may complicate efforts to free the UN peacekeeping personnel - mostly Zambians - who are still being held hostage.

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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
18 May 00 | Africa
Arrest threat to UN releases
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