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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"
 real 56k

Tony Cramp British Military Spokesman
"The situation here is complicated"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 5 September, 2000, 18:38 GMT 19:38 UK
Paras fly out in hostage mission

Soldiers from the elite Parachute Regiment are flying to West Africa as a "precautionary measure" while efforts continue to free six British soldiers being held hostage in Sierra Leone.

More than 100 troops have been sent to Dakar in Senegal, 500 miles from the area where the men from the Royal Irish Regiment were captured by rebels 11 days ago.

A Ministry of Defence source in London stressed the move was a contingency and said negotiations with leaders of the notorious West Side Boys remained the priority.


"This is a precautionary measure to deploy them but it does not signal imminent military action."

Ministry of Defence source
The source told BBC News Online: "This is a precautionary measure to deploy them but it does not signal imminent military action."

Three rounds of talks have been held with the rebels over the past three days and on Monday the British military mission in Sierra Leone said negotiations were progressing well.

Senior officers are concerned the West Side Boys do not see the arrival of the Paras as a sign they are facing attack, which could put the hostages' lives in danger.

Unpredictable

The BBC's correspondent in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, Allan Little, said as the unpredictable group would already know of the move British officials there were particularly keen to play down its significance.

He said negotiations are continuing but as usual no details were being given about the substance of talks.

Soldier of the Royal Irish Regiment checking his weapon
Royal Irish Regiment troops were seized 11 days ago

The company from 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment is made up of the same men who were in Sierra Leone in May and they are familiar with the terrain.

Densely-wooded hills

The West Side Boys captured 11 Royal Irish Regiment troops 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.

rebel, West Side Boys
The West Side Boys are not linked to the main rebel group, the RUF
Five of the soldiers were released on Wednesday.

It appears that the soldiers were taken hostage after becoming caught up in a local political dispute.

The West Side Boys, estimated to have a few hundred members, are an offshoot of forces loyal to the junta that ruled from May 1997 to February 1998.

However, many members are common criminals freed from prison when the militia took part in the rebel invasion of Freetown in January 1999.

The group split from the rebel Revolutionary United Front a year ago, declared allegiance to the government but after repeated clashes with government troops is now considered a renegade militia.

On Thursday, the militia broadcast demands on the BBC World Service, including the release of supporters and family, recognition by the Sierra Leone government and the establishment of an interim government.

The Sierra Leone Government has rejected their demands.

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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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