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Wednesday, 24 May, 2000, 19:39 GMT 20:39 UK
Six UN peacekeepers dead
Sierra Leonean child soldier
There's concern that child soldiers are using British arms
The UN mission in Sierra Leone says that six of its peacekeeping troops have been killed since clashes with rebels began earlier this month.



Foday Sankoh, regardless of what he may be, is a factor in this process. He is not a piece of paper that will go away

President Taylor of Liberia
The UN spokesman in Freetown David Wimhurst said the dead UN peacekeepers were three Nigerians and three Kenyans.

The British Government, meanwhile, has reacted to reports that British-supplied arms were being used by child soldiers in the Sierra Leonean Army.

Identification

The UN death toll may go higher if investigations prove that six bodies found in UN uniforms on Monday were in fact part of the peacekeeping force.

The rebels of the Revolutionary United Front are known to wear uniforms they have taken from UN hostages.


Unidentified emains in Sierra Leone
The UN is yet to ascertain the identities of six bodies in UN uniforms
Mr Wimhurst said he had no proof yet that the bodies were those of UN personnel.

The task of identifying the corpses is proving more difficult because of the lack of forensic experts within Sierra Leone.

UN chief hopeful

More than 250 more UN peacekeepers are still being held hostage by Foday Sankoh's RUF rebels.



I would hope that by [Saturday] most of the peacekeepers will be in freedom

UN chief Kofi Annan
At UN headquarters in New York, the Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he hoped most of the peacekeepers still held hostage by rebels in Sierra Leone would be released by this weekend.

Mr Annan said he had spoken to the Liberian President Charles Taylor, who has played a key role in negotiating the release of scores of UN peacekeepers.


Released UN hostages in Sierra Leone
More than 200 UN hostages have been released by the rebels
But President Taylor, who has close contacts with the RUF rebels, has raised fresh questions about the future by arguing that the detained rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, should still be a factor in the peace process in Sierra Leone.

"Foday Sankoh, regardless of what he may be, is a factor in this process. He is not a piece of paper that will go away," Mr Taylor told a group of foreign journalists in Monrovia on Tuesday.

Armed child soldiers

Meanwhile the British Government says it's reminding President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone that weapons supplied by the UK should be used only by regular soldiers.

The government was responding to a report in the London Evening Standard newspaper that many teenage or even younger boys are fighting in the Sierra Leone army - some using British rifles.

The defence ministry in London said Britain had supplied 10,000 self-loading rifles (SLRs) to the Sierra Leone Government for 'training purposes.'

But the Evening Standard's on Wednesday printed a front-page article which showed a young Sierra Leonean Army soldier - reputed to be younger than 14 - holding one of the SLRs.

Child soldiers have been widely recruited by both sides in the eight-year civil war.

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See also:

24 May 00 | Africa
'UN victims' buried too soon
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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