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Wednesday, 24 May, 2000, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
Analysis: Britain's Sierra Leone plan
British advisor with Sierra Leone officer
Military advisors are part of the UK plan
By the BBC's Allan Little

From the beginning, the eight Royal Navy ships and thousands of British military personnel sent to Sierra Leone seemed a suspiciously large force just for an evacuation of foreign nationals.

Now we know why. The full scale of the planned British intervention is now clear. The help to the beleaguered Sierra Leone Government will take three forms:

  • The first is the short-term presence of British soldiers - 1,000 Royal Marine Commandos who will replace the paratroopers. Their intervention two weeks ago had an immediate and stabilising effect.

  • The second is a team of military advisers, 90-strong, mostly senior British officers, to run the Sierra Leone army. This is a much longer term commitment and could last years.

  • The third and most controversial is the announcement today that Britain is to supply arms and ammunition to front-line combat troops on the government side.

"Given the return to violence by the RUF, we will also be giving the Sierra Leone army access, if needed for operations and under the supervision of British officers, to stocks of light weapons and ammunition," UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told the BBC.

"The stocks will be carefully considered in the context of the local political situation and the wider regional issues."

Untrained army

Sierra Leone's army is chaotic and untrained. It has an appalling human rights record. But Britain has today made allies of these men in the hope that they can be transformed into a disciplined and democratically accountable fighting force.


Sierra Leone soldier
British weapons will be supplied to the Sierra Leone army
There is no quick-fix way of doing that. The opposition Conservative Party has been calling for a clear mission statement from the beginning. Now they have got it, and they have pressed the government to go even further.

"We're saying that if there is a case, on military advice, to extending the duration in order to enable the United Nations force to go into serious and effective peacekeeping, then we'd support that," Conservative defence spokesman Francis Maude said.

"We don't want the government to be constrained."

Britain has committed itself to nothing less than trying to rebuild an African state that has collapsed catastrophically.

They hope that legitimate government can re-establish itself there. And that is not a short-term task but both the government and the opposition have embraced it.

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See also:

20 May 00 | Africa
UN to boost Sierra Leone force
19 May 00 | Africa
Rebels accuse Britain
12 May 00 | Africa
Foday Sankoh: Rebel leader
23 May 00 | UK Politics
UK to arm Sierra Leone forces
23 May 00 | Africa
Kenyan hero chooses captivity
24 May 00 | UK Politics
Sierra Leone pull-out 'on target'
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