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Monday, 11 September, 2000, 07:42 GMT 08:42 UK
Questions for Sierra Leone hostages
Sir Percival, Royal Navy vessel
Troops spent first night of freedom on the Sir Percival
The six British soldiers freed from captivity in Sierra Leone in a dramatic military raid will face detailed debriefing sessions on Monday.

The troops, who were held for over two weeks by the small, but heavily armed, militia group known as the West Side Boys, will be asked to explain why they ventured into the dangerous jungle area, which was widely known to be controlled by their captors.

British soldiers in Sierra Leone
British soldiers are in Sierra Leone to train the government army
One British paratrooper and 25 Sierra Leonean militiamen were killed in the fierce fighting which followed, and another 12 British soldiers were injured.

Meanwhile, the captured leader of the West Side Boys, Brigadier Foday Kallay, says he now regrets the kidnapping and that his militia is now a spent force.

Speaking to the BBC, the 24-year-old self-styled brigadier, who is now being held by the Sierra Leonean authorities, said most of the West Side Boys had been wiped out in the raid.

The Sierra Leonean Government said the rescue operation sent a message to all rebels in the country that they should give up their weapons.

'Mock executions'

The six soldiers, all members of the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR), spent their first night of freedom on board the Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Sir Percival, docked in the capital Freetown.


They were given little freedom of movement and their basic requirements of food and water were severely limited

Colonel Simon Fordham
There they joined their five comrades who were released by the West Side Boys on 30 August.

The men's commanding officer, Colonel Simon Fordham, said they were "physically and mentally exhausted".

"They were kept in very poor conditions and they looked after themselves as best they could."

map
The hostages were held in the Occra Hills
British defence officials said they had taken the decision to launch the rescue mission after repeated threats by the West Side Boys to kill their captives, and when it became clear that the militiamen's negotiators were making unreasonable demands.

British Defence Minister Geoff Hoon said: "The captors had repeatedly threatened to kill the hostages, and indeed we understand that mock executions had taken place."

The rescue operation, by men from the 1st Battalion of 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.

In addition to the 25 dead, a total of 18 members of the West Side Boys - 15 men and three women - were captured.

British presence

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

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 government has publicly rejected this demand, saying it would encourage more of the lawlessness which has plagued the country for a decade.

The BBC's Mark Doyle in Freetown says the kidnapping and dramatic rescue operation have overshadowed the reasons why the British military came to Sierra Leone in the first place.

The army is in the country to train the army of the elected and internationally-recognised government so that it can face up to rebels responsible for atrocities against its civilians.

Our correspondent says the aim is for the newly trained army to help rebuild a wider respect for law and order, but as the kidnapping showed, the tentative peace process still has a long way to go.

Despite the latest blow to the West Side Boys, the main rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front, still controls large parts of the country.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jonathan Charles reports
"The commander of British forces in Sierra Leone insists there's no question of a pullout"
The BBC's James Robbins
"The political temperature is certainly building in London"
Brigadier Gordon Hughes
"We have a clear mission to help the armed forces of Sierra Leone, through training and advice"
Sierra Leone in crisis

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See also:

30 Aug 00 | Africa
30 Aug 00 | N Ireland
11 Sep 00 | UK Politics
11 Sep 00 | Africa
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