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Tony Cramp British Military Spokesman
"The situation here is complicated"
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The BBC's Mark Doyle reports from Freetown
"There is no such thing as a risk free intervention in Sierra Leone"
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Monday, 4 September, 2000, 03:52 GMT 04:52 UK
Sierra Leone hostage talks 'going well'
British troops training Sierra Leone soldiers
British troops continue training Sierra Leone soldiers
The British military mission in Sierra Leone has said that talks with the militia group holding six UK soldiers hostage are progressing well.

A spokesperson for the mission said he remained hopeful that all six soldiers would soon be freed.

Mark Doyle, the BBC's West Africa correspondent, said it was increasingly clear that the soldiers were taken hostage after becoming caught up in a local political dispute.

The West Side Boys captured 11 British soldiers of the Royal Irish Regiment in the densely-forested Occra Hills area, about 80km (50 miles) from the capital Freetown, on 25 August. They are also holding one Sierra Leonean hostage.

Soldier of the Royal Irish Regiment checking his weapon
Troops have prayed for the hostages' freedom
Relatives of the West Side Boys are expected to leave Freetown on Monday to visit their base to make a fresh appeal for the release of the captives.

A first plea was made by relatives last Tuesday, the day before five captives were released.

The West Side Boys want the release of their supporters from jail, a review of Sierra Leone's peace agreement and integration into the country's army. The government has rejected their terms.

The new release initiative was announced by former military ruler Johnny Paul Koroma, to whom the West Side Boys formerly gave allegiance.

He said the rebels had apparently not fulfilled a pledge they gave relatives on Thursday to release their hostages over the weekend.

The Sierra Leone Government has reiterated several times its determination not to make concessions to the hostage-takers.

Finance Minister James Jonah told the BBC: "The government has taken the position that we are not going to negotiate.

Child soldiers of the RUF rebel group
Children are widely used as soldiers

"The West Side gang are not a military threat. They are an irritation and a political nuisance. Therefore we don't see any reason why we should give in to some of the demands they have made," he said.

But the BBC's correspondent in Freetown, Mark Doyle, says sources close to the militia group believe clemency for past crimes may be one way of encouraging the kidnappers to come out of the jungle with their captives.

British Army officials have not disclosed details of how the release of five of the hostages was secured and particularly whether any concessions were made to the captors.

Recent reports from Sierra Leone suggest the British soldiers were captured by a group which included child fighters.

Prayers offered

British troops at the Royal Irish Regiment's Sierra Leone base at Benguema said prayers on Sunday for the release of the hostages.

The service was conducted by army chaplain Captain Joe Moesel and was attended by Brigadier Gordon Hughes, commander of the British forces in Sierra Leone.

Captain Moesel said: "Our instincts are to use action particularly for those of you who are in frontiers, that's what you are trained for, that's what you do best in many ways.

"But sometimes our instincts have to be outweighed by our professionalism and our professionalism calls for patience and for waiting."

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See also:

30 Aug 00 | Africa
Confusion over UK captives
29 Aug 00 | Africa
Who are the West Side Boys?
30 Aug 00 | Northern Ireland
Marching in step with the Royal Irish
28 Aug 00 | UK Politics
UK presence in Sierra Leone questioned
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