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Sunday, 10 September, 2000, 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK
Death threats triggered rescue operation

Negotiations with the militia group holding the British soldiers hostage in Sierra Leone had always been described to the press as "productive" and "cordial".


There was an imminent danger to the men being held

Lieutenant Commander Tony Cramp
But behind the public announcements, relations between the negotiators and the captors had soured in the past two days.

The hostages - six Royal Irish Regiment soldiers and a local army officer - were actually living in fear of their lives, and it was this knowledge that triggered the rescue operation.

British military spokesman, Lieutenant Commander Tony Cramp, said: "Over the last couple of days it was felt these talks were not going anywhere and on the advice of those conducting negotiations it was felt there was an imminent danger to the men being held."

UK Defence Minister Geoff Hoon, said the militia had "threatened repeatedly to kill the hostages" and mock executions had taken place.

hoon
Geoff Hoon: Death threats to captives
The soldiers had been held in the densely-forested Occra Hills area, about 80km (50 miles) from the capital Freetown, after being captured on 25 August.

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

'Unreasonable concessions'

But the Sierra Leone Government reiterated several times its determination not to give in to the hostage-takers.

The only concessions to the captors had been a satellite telephone, food and medical supplies.

This is thought to have led to the release of five of the soldiers on 30 August.

But after that, negotiations achieved nothing.

Mr Hoon said at the last meeting with West Side Boys leader "Brigadier" Foday Kallay the demands had got unreasonable.

On Thursday, several dozen British paratroopers arrived in Sierra Leone from Dakar, Senegal, with the authorisation of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mr Blair gave the final go-ahead for the mission to free the soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment on Saturday afternoon.

In Canterbury, England, British army spokesman Paul Beard said the hostages' families had been given advance warning of the rescue and were "delighted at the news".

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05 Sep 00 | Africa
Paras fly out in hostage mission
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