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The BBC's Mike Donkin
"A day of great relief for the UN."
 real 28k

The BBC's Kate Aide in Freetown
"The UN troops are conspicuously passive at the moment"
 real 28k

Sierra Leone Finance Minister, James Jonah
"The people are angry"
 real 28k

Sunday, 28 May, 2000, 05:56 GMT 06:56 UK
Rebels pressed for more releases
Indian peackeepers at check point in Freetown
Indian peacekeepers joined the UN force after the hostage crisis
The UN says it is concentrating on securing the release of the last peacekeepers still being held by rebels in Sierra Leone, after more than 100 were freed on Saturday.

The UN spokesman in the capital, Freetown, David Wimhurst, said he was hopeful there would be more releases very soon.

His comments came after 143 peacekeepers arrived safely back at base in Freetown after being freed by the rebels who had held them for nearly a month.

Another 112 are still unaccounted for, although the UN believes some of them may already be on their way to freedom via neighbouring Liberia.

A Liberian Government minister said mediators were continuing talks with individual rebel commanders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Liberian President Charles Taylor - who has acted as a go-between - has pledged that the remaining hostages will also be freed.

The latest group to arrive back in Freetown were in borrowed uniforms, because their own had been stolen by their captors.

Several were on stretchers - some suffering from malaria - but all were in good spirits.

They will be treated, de-briefed and returned to their units.

Sankoh trial row

The Sierra Leone President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah has said that the rebel leader Foday Sankoh would shortly be put on trial.

But ahead of a meeting of regional leaders in Nigeria, Mr Taylor warned that prosecuting the rebel leader could be counter-productive.

Mr Taylor aid it would be "very foolish" to contemplate putting him on trial.


Charles Taylor: Talk of trial
Charles Taylor: Talk of trial "very foolish"
"It does not make any sense at this time to deal with the question of Foday Sankoh before disarmament and demobilisation and before elections," he said.

The heads of government meeting in Abuja will discuss the contribution of more troops from the region to the peace keeping effort.

But our correspondent Mike Donkin says a ceasefire looks a long way off.

On the front line, government forces are mounting a determined and rather more co-ordinated offensive.

They are confronting the rebels on the main highways north and east from Freetown, heading for RUF strongholds which include the diamond mines they depend on to fund their struggle.

Allegations



This time round Sankoh will be prosecuted

President Kabbah

RUF rebels have said they will continue to fight unless their leader is released but this has not stopped the release of most of their UN hostages.

Mr Sankoh was captured just over two weeks ago after disappearing during the protest at his home.

He is currently being held in an undisclosed location by the Sierra Leonean Government.

The government has been investigating Mr Sankoh's role in the deaths of 21 people at the hands of rebel gunmen during a protest in front of his Freetown residence earlier this month, as well as allegations that rebels have been involved in diamond smuggling.

The rebel leader was convicted of treason in 1998 and sentenced to death but was later released from jail under the provisions of a peace accord signed last July that was meant to end the eight-year civil war.

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See also:

27 May 00 | Africa
Sankoh trial 'very foolish'
12 May 00 | Africa
Foday Sankoh: Rebel leader
17 May 00 | Africa
What now for Sankoh?
26 May 00 | Africa
Still open for diamond business
27 May 00 | UK Politics
UK troops 'out by June'
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