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UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook
"The peace-keeping force has a very robust mandate"
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Brigadier David Richards, British Army
"The UN are now getting in and starting to redeploy"
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Wednesday, 24 May, 2000, 12:23 GMT 13:23 UK
'UN victims' buried too soon
Rogberi Junction
UN investigators arrived too late to see the remains
Sierra Leone army soldiers have hampered attempts to identify more than half a dozen corpses believed to be United Nations peacekeepers.

UN investigators arrived in Rogberi Junction near Lunsar, the scene of fighting between government forces and rebels, to find that the bodies, some in UN uniforms, had already been buried.

We had to bury the dead

Lieutenant Colonel Edmund Bangura

The fighting some 80 km (50 miles) north-east of Freetown has prompted fears among humanitarian agencies of re-recruitment - and fresh abductions - of child soldiers by both sides in the conflict.

Meanwhile, United Kindom efforts to stabilise the situation continue as it prepares to replace the paratroopers in Freetown with 1,000 Royal Marine Commandos at the weekend.

The UK has also offered to train Sierra Leone's army and the supplying of light weapons is already reported to have begun.

Investigation delayed

The decomposing and mutilated remains discovered at Rogberi Junction were found in frontline positions which had been manned by Zambian UN peacekeepers two weeks ago.

The Sierra Leone army's Lieutenant Colonel Edmund Bangura said he had to bury the dead.

Sierra Leone
The Sierra Leone army continuesto hit back at RUF attacks

The UN is keen to know whether the bodies are the latest UN victims of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which is still holding about 250 troops hostage.

Two Nigerian peacekeepers were killed on Monday making the official UN death toll four.

The investigators interviewed soldiers at Rogberi Junction and examined documents taken from the bodies, but it was still unclear how they died.

A gun battle took place on 6 May, but the advanced decomposition of the bodies - in some cases only whitened bones remained - raised questions about how long they had been there.

UN spokesman David Wimhurst said the bodies would be exhumed once the town was secure.

Rogberi Junction fell to the army and its allies on Sunday, the latest stage in an advance by the government, but fighting has continued.

The army is also advancing towards the diamond-rich town of Makeni which has been in rebel hands for 18 months.

Child recruits

The renewed clashes have raised concerns that children will once again be drawn into the front line.

Humanitarian agencies say about 40 children from a care centre in Makeni have been taken back into rebel ranks.

Child soldier
Agencies fear more child soldiers will be recruited to fight

Children as young as seven have also been seen carrying guns and foraging for food with pro-government forces in Masiaka, east of the capital Freetown.

Aid agency Caritas International is trying to evacuate children from the areas where fighting continues.

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See also:

20 May 00 | Africa
UN to boost Sierra Leone force
23 May 00 | Africa
Kenyan hero chooses captivity
24 May 00 | UK Politics
Sierra Leone pull-out 'on target'
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