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The BBC's Jonathan Charles in Freetown
"The number of casualties could have been far, far higher"
 real 56k

The BBC's David Shukman
"It succeeded but a heavy price was paid"
 real 56k

The BBC's Allan Little in Freetown
"The key to this operation lay in the intelligence gathering"
 real 28k

Editor Africa Confidential, Patrick Smith
"We need a global rethink about this operation"
 real 56k

Monday, 11 September, 2000, 02:58 GMT 03:58 UK
Bloody end to Sierra Leone hostage drama
British troops in Sierra Leone
Extra troops were deployed to West Africa earlier this week
One British soldier and 25 Sierra Leonean militiamen were killed when British troops staged a dramatic mission to free seven hostages.

The operation, involving 155 troops and five helicopters, began shortly after dawn when soldiers moved in on the militia's jungle hideout, east of the capital Freetown.

The hostages were held in the Occra Hills
After 20 minutes of fierce fighting the hostages - six British troops and their local guide - were freed and taken to safety.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has praised the bravery and professionalism of all those involved in the rescue.

The UK Ministry of Defence said another British soldier had been seriously injured and 11 suffered light wounds in Sunday's raid.

The hostages had been held by the militia known as the West Side Boys since 25 August.

'Mock executions'

Eighteen members of the West Side Boys - 15 men and three women - were also captured, including the group's leader "Brigadier" Foday Kallay.

They were not a pushover - they fought very hard

General Sir Charles Guthrie
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said the decision to move in came after a breakdown of talks with the group, and following reports they staged "mock executions" on the British soldiers, all members of the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR).

Mr Blair said his thoughts and prayers were with servicemen's families.

He said: "I cannot pay high enough tribute to the skill, the professionalism and the courage of the armed forces involved.

"Inevitably, in such an operation as this, there are casualties."

Hostage crisis
25 August: 11 British soldiers captured with Sierra Leonean colleague
30 August: Militiamen free five British soldiers
31 August: Kidnappers issue political demands
6 September: Plan for military operation finalised
10 September: Remaining hostages freed
The freed hostages, along with the Sierra Leonean army officer, are now safely aboard the British naval vessel Sir Percival in the harbour of the capital Freetown.

Five British soldiers who were released last Wednesday are being returned to Britain this week.

At the RIR's headquarters in Ballymena, County Antrim, there was intense relief, but the celebrations were tempered by news of the rescuers' casualties.

'Significant resistance'

General Sir Charles Guthrie, chief of the defence staff, said there had been "significant resistance" from the West Side Boys.

"They fought very hard and there were women among the fighting, some of whom may have been among the casualities."

The rescue operation, by men from the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment, along with RAF and Royal Navy forces, centred on a militia camp in the Occra Hills, situated on both sides of a 300 metre-wide creek surrounded by swamps.

Soldier of the Royal Irish Regiment checking his weapon
Five Royal Irish Regiment troop hostages had already been released
A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Blair authorised the troops' move on Wednesday, and gave the final go-ahead for the mission to free the soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment on Saturday afternoon.

The West Side Boys include former government army troops who say they want the peace agreement signed last year renegotiated.

The elected and British-backed Sierra Leone Government has publicly rejected this demand, saying it would encourage more of the lawlessness which has plagued the country for a decade.

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See also:

10 Sep 00 | Africa
Complex operation behind rescue
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
05 Sep 00 | Africa
Paras fly out in hostage mission
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