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Wednesday, 31 May, 2000, 18:59 GMT 19:59 UK
Rebels retake key Sierra Leonean town
Sierra Leone soldiers
The Sierra Leonean army has been beaten by the rebels
Rebels in Sierra Leone have recaptured the strategic town of Lunsar from pro-government forces.

The rebels came with the heavy guns they had taken from the UNAMSIL (UN force)

Pro-government fighter

Its recapture by the Revolutionary United Front, RUF, was confirmed by military sources in Freetown - and came as UK forces prepared to withdraw in two weeks time.

The sources said the town fell on Wednesday after nearly eight hours of fighting on Tuesday night.



Lunsar is located 80 kilometres (50 miles) north-east of Freetown on a major highway that leads from the capital to the rebel-held town of Makeni and the rest of the diamond-rich east of the country.

Pro-government forces captured it from the rebels on Monday but now they have been forced to retreat to the nearby town of Mamusar.

"Both forces suffered heavy casualties," a military source told reporters.

Injuries



A strong British military team will remain to assist the government defence forces and UNAMSIL

UK troops withdrawal leaflet
Exact casualty figures are not known but some government soldiers have been brought to Freetown with gunshot wounds and other injuries.

"We withdrew because we ran out of ammunition," the source added.

"The rebels came with the heavy guns they had taken from the UNAMSIL (UN force), the fighting was very serious and we had to pull back," one pro-government fighter said.

British withdrawal

In Freetown, UK soldiers have been distributing leaflets to prepare the city's residents for their withdrawal.

"A strong British military team will remain to assist the government defence forces and UNAMSIL," the leaflet read.

"The essential technical and other advice given to both will remain firmly in place," the leaflet said.

But in a statement which proved to be a premature analysis of the crisis in Sierra Leone, the leaflet expressed confidence in the ability of pro-government forces.

"The recent military successes by the government of Sierra Leone defence forces clearly demonstrate the effectiveness and cohesion that now exist. The UK fully supports their increasingly impressive capability," the leaflet said.

"The government of Sierra Leone defence forces and UNAMSIL are building closer co-operation in a number of areas including convoys, intelligence and inspection of troop movements," the leaflet added.

The UK's Royal Marines last week replaced the paratroops who had led the UK intervention in Sierra Leone.

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See also:

01 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Army defends Sierra Leone leaflets
29 May 00 | Africa
More troops for Sierra Leone
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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