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The BBC's Mike Donkin in Freetown
"The first releases since Foday Sankoh's capture"
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The BBC's Mark Perrow
"Fresh details are emerging of the nature of the hostages ordeal"
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Tuesday, 23 May, 2000, 00:33 GMT 01:33 UK
Peacekeepers feared killed
Norwegian naval commander Knut Gjellestad
Released Norwegian observer Knut Gjellestad (right)
Sierra Leonean soldiers have discovered at least half a dozen mutilated corpses of what appear to be Zambian UN peacekeepers.

The bodies, found at Rugberi Junction about 50 miles (80km) north-east of the capital, Freetown, were hacked into many pieces and were wearing Zambian military uniforms, some with UN insignia on them.

However, the UN has cautioned that an investigation would be needed as rebels donned the uniforms of many of the kidnapped UN peacekeepers and wore them themselves.

Meanwhile, a further 29 Zambian peacekeepers have been released by rebels, following the freeing of 54 hostages on Sunday.

Arriving in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, they said the rebels had demanded the release of their leader, Foday Sankoh, within 13 days.

But there was no indication of what they would do if the ultimatum is not met.

Tied around a tree

In Monrovia, one Zambian sergeant said that his group of hostages had been tied around a tree. He said they were beaten and given little food.

About 250 UN peacekeepers are still being held.

The UN said the group of peacekeepers released on Sunday comprised 42 Zambian and 10 Kenyan soldiers, as well as two military observers - one Malaysian and one Norwegian.

They are the first hostages to be freed since 17 May, when about 150 peacekeepers reached Liberia.

The President of Sierra Leone, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, has rejected rebel demands that detained rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, be set free in exchange for the freeing of the remaining hostages.

Forces loyal to the government have been advancing on the strategic rebel-held town of Lunsar, north-east of Freetown.

E-mail to UK

A trapped British Army Major, Andy Harrison, working as a UN observer when he was taken hostage 20 days ago has managed to send an e-mail to his wife.

Major Harrison had been held by the RUF, but nine days ago they allowed him to join an Indian peacekeeping unit from the Darreu area, which is besieged deep in rebel held territory.
Nigerian UN soldiers
About 250 UN staff are still held by rebels

The major said he was well, and in good spirits.

Meanwhile, reports from Freetown said that two Nigerian UN peacekeepers and an army deserter were killed in a clash overnight in Freetown, a source close to the United Nations said on Monday.

The incident is said to have occurred when renegade army soldiers came to Freetown's Wilberforce barracks to free an imprisoned comrade.

UN reinforcements

The hostage releases came as thousands of UN reinforcements prepared to fly to Sierra Leone.

Nearly 300 Indian and Jordanian peacekeepers are expected to arrive on Monday and Tuesday, and preparations are under way for the deployment of about 3,000 West African soldiers.

The arrival of 800 troops from Bangladesh has been delayed while they await cargo aircraft to transport them.

The extra forces due this week will take UN troop numbers in Sierra Leone up to 13,000.
Kofi Annan
Kofi Annan wants over 16,000 UN peacekeepers in Sierra Leone

Reports say UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is calling for a further 3,500 peacekeepers.

Mr Annan has said in a recent letter to the Security Council that it was "crucial to accelerate the deployment of military units".

A report from Mr Annan to the Security Council is due to be made public shortly, but an advance copy was obtained by the BBC.

He says that, if the mandate of the UN soldiers is changed to authorise them to impose peace throughout the country, then the number of peacekeepers would need to increase yet again.

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See also:

20 May 00 | Africa
UN to boost Sierra Leone force
22 May 00 | UK Politics
Sierra Leone mission 'unchanged'
19 May 00 | Africa
Rebels accuse Britain
12 May 00 | Africa
Foday Sankoh: Rebel leader
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