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The BBC's Mike Donkin
"The end at last to a month-long ordeal"
 real 28k

The BBC's Kate Adie in Freetown
"There is unequivocal distrust of the UN""
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Monday, 29 May, 2000, 02:18 GMT 03:18 UK
Last UN troops freed
Sierra Leone soldiers
The army is apparently gaining the upper hand
All peacekeepers who were being held hostages by rebels in Sierra Leone have been released.

UN spokesman David Wimhurst said the last group of 85 detained peacekeepers were freed and are now in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, waiting to go back to Sierra Leone.

Mr Wimhurst said four peacekeepers who remained unaccounted for were probably among a group of bodies found last week.


UN soldiers return from captivity
All the captured UN soldiers have now been released
However, 23 Indian troops remain trapped at their base behind rebel lines in the village of Quiver in the eastern Kailahun district of Sierra Leone. They have been allowed to keep their arms.

Our correspondent Mike Donkin says the UN can now make a fresh start to its ill-fated mission in Sierra Leone.

The UN's spokesman in the country has expressed hope that the releases show that rebels from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) are ready to consider a peace deal.

Negotiation

Mr Wimhurst said the UN was grateful to the President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, for his role as mediator with the RUF.

President Taylor is the closest regional ally to the rebels and has condemned as "foolish" plans by Sierra Leonean President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah to put rebel leader Foday Sankoh on trial before parties in the civil war had disarmed

The hostage drama came to an end four weeks after the rebels captured about 500 UN troops.

Military action

On the military front, a battle between Sierra Leonean soldiers and rebels is being seen as a turning point in the long civil war - after the army beat off a rebel offensive.

The British military forces in Sierra say 29 rebels were killed in the battle at Rogberi Junction on Friday.

Advancing government forces came under fierce attack from the rebels.

But for the first time, Sierra Leone army regulars and militiamen - who previously have had a reputation for ill-discipline - united effectively to repel them.

Towards the mines

The government troops are now pressing on east towards the diamond mines which the rebels use to fund their war effort.


Foday Sankoh after his capture
Sankoh's capture seems to have demoralised the rebels
It is possible that the rebels will make a stand to defend the mines, but Mike Donkin says there are clear signs now that the ranks of the Revolutionary United Front are fragmented.

A number of RUF men have responded to the Sierra Leone president's call to give themselves up.

With Foday Sankoh facing trial, no successor has yet come forward to galvanise their continued resistance.

Previously, RUF rebels have said they will continue to fight unless their leader is released.

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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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