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The BBC's Keith Breene
"The past weeks have been a time of uncertainty and fear"
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The BBC's Mark Doyle
"UN finds itself in an unusual situation"
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Monday, 17 July, 2000, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
Rescuer died in Leone operation
UN officers
Peacekeepers were rescued as troops attacked the base
One Indian soldier died and seven other Indian UN personnel were wounded in the weekend rescue of more than 200 peacekeepers in eastern Sierra Leone, say the UN.

The UN force commander, General Vijay Jetley, said the soldier was a member of the rescue party who had died from injuries he sustained during the operation.

This is the price we pay for the freedom of our brothers and sisters in Sierra Leone

Maj-Gen Jetley
He added that seven other Indian troops were also wounded in the raid.

UN officials said initially on Sunday there had been no fatalities in the operation to free the Indian troops from a camp besieged by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels for two months.

A total of 222 Indian peacekeepers and 11 military observers were sprung from their camp in the eastern rebel stronghold of Kailahun in a dawn operation on Saturday.

"This is the price we pay for the freedom of our brothers and sisters in Sierra Leone," Maj-Gen Jetley told reporters in Freetown.

Rebel base 'destroyed'

The UN commander told the BBC that in the process of releasing the trapped peacekeepers, a multinational force of Indian, Nigerian and Ghanaian troops had also destroyed a major rebel base in the town of Pendembu.

map of Sierra Leone
The UN commander said that his men had seized missile launchers, ammunition and communications equipment from Pendembu, which he described as a rebel brigade headquarters.

The announcement of the destruction of the camp - as well as the rescue of the soldiers - will be a major morale boost to the UN.

All the UN peacekeepers reached a UN base in Daru on Sunday, after a trek through rebel-held territory from Kailahun, where they had been besieged by the rebels.

"The men were not only rescued, they were also rescued with all the weapons they had in their possession," Major-General Jetley, said in Daru.

The major-general said the troops would continue to be deployed in a "robust" manner, following this success.

Force 'unavoidable'

The Indian Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh, said the military operation had become inevitable, after the UN and India had made "extensive diplomatic efforts" to persuade the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) to lift the siege.

The UN rescue mission was launched in response to a distress signal sent by the troops, who were encircled by rebels and cut off from relief supplies.

In the joint UN-British air rescue on Saturday, RAF Chinook helicopters landed in the camp in which the UN soldiers were trapped.

British helicopter crews and UN forces airlifted out about 40 personnel, including 11 military observers and flew them to safety in Freetown.

According to the UN, some 40 UN military personnel were on board the helicopters within just 30 seconds - a time scale that indicates careful planning and co-ordination.

The troops had been detained in Kailahun since May, after the RUF broke a peace deal.

In the past two weeks, the rebels had refused to allow Unamsil to send food to the troops.

The 13,000 strong Sierra Leone peacekeeping force is the largest force deployed by the UN anywhere in the world.

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See also:

04 Jul 00 | Africa
UN retakes key Sierra Leone town
19 Jun 00 | Africa
Freetown tense after shootings
12 May 00 | Africa
Foday Sankoh: Rebel leader
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