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The BBC's Mark Doyle reports from Monrovia
"The rebels still control key diamond mining areas"
 real 28k

Hirut Befacadu, UN spokesman, Freetown
"They were in good health"
 real 28k

Friday, 30 June, 2000, 06:33 GMT 07:33 UK
Freed UN soldiers arrive in Monrovia
UN sends its dead home
The UN has been humiliated by the rebels
The 21 UN peacekeepers freed after being held for weeks by rebels in Sierra Leone have arrived in the Liberian capital Monrovia.

The Revolutionary United Front rebels handed over the Indian captives late on Wednesday to Liberian authorities in the remote border town of Foya.

More than 200 UN troops from India remain surrounded in a UN compound in the rebel stronghold of Kailahun, 320km (200 miles) east of the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown.


Liberian Information Minister Joe Mulbah said Liberia hoped the release would lead to a negotiated solution to the war in Sierra Leone.

Mr Mulbah said earlier that all the UN soldiers should be released by the weekend, as well as 11 unarmed military observers who are also detained.

Well-treated

The freed soldiers said they had been well treated by their captors

"We had a good relationship with the RUF, no problem whatsoever," said Lieutenant Colonel Amit Sharma.

The beseiged peacekeepers were allowed to keep their weapons.

The soldiers are expected to return to Sierra Leone later on Friday.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, speaking through a spokesman, welcomed the move by rebels and hoped the move would be followed by "immediate and unconditional freedom of movement" for the besieged troops.

The senior UN representative in Liberia, Felix Downes-Thomas, said that the prospects for the UN resuming normal peacekeeping duties in Sierra Leone had improved with the release.

Backer

Liberia is the main backer of the RUF rebels, and has already obtained the release of hundreds of UN personnel taken hostage by the rebels.

President Taylor of Liberia
Liberian President Charles Taylor: Close to the Sierra Leonean rebels

Mr Mulbah said Liberian President Charles Taylor had recently received envoys from the United Nations and India, asking him to solve the crisis.

He said the imminent release of the remaining peacekeepers was part of a deal under which the Sierra Leone rebels have been promised a ceasefire and a return to the negotiating table. The RUF rebels originally took hostage about 500 UN peacekeepers in May.

All of them were eventually released through Liberia by the end of the month.

It was this abduction that prompted the UK, Sierra Leone's former colonial power, to send in its paratroopers to help restore some peace and security in and around the capital, Freetown.

Liberian connection

Released UN hostages in Sierra Leone
The original batch of more than 500 UN peacekeepers was released by the end of May

President Taylor's backing of the Sierra Leone rebels, who have committed widespread atrocities against civilians, has brought condemnation, especially from the UK.

But at the same time the international community has relied on Liberia to help free the hostages.

President Taylor was the rebels' closest regional ally during Sierra Leone's eight-year civil war, which was supposed to have ended with the signing of a peace accord last July.

Liberia has also been accused of sending weapons and mercenaries to aid the rebels, but vehemently denies the claims.

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See also:

15 May 00 | Africa
Diamonds: A rebel's best friend
13 Jun 00 | Africa
EU suspends Liberia aid
19 May 00 | Africa
Rebels demand Sankoh release
04 Jun 00 | Africa
UN investigates hostage crisis
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