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Monday, 11 September, 2000, 12:01 GMT 13:01 UK
The UK in Sierra Leone: What next?
Training
British soldiers are training the government army
By BBC News Online's Russell Smith

The rescue operation to free the last six British soldiers held captive by the West Side Boys will have gone some way to restore the credibility of the British forces in Sierra Leone.

The forces have been lionised in Freetown for their crucial intervention in May, which helped repel rebels approaching the capital.

Then British troops co-ordinated government troops and allied militias (including the West Side Boys) to successfully push back the main rebel group responsible for brutal atrocities against its civilians.

The main part of the British forces withdrew in June and since then some 300 UK soldiers have played a low key role training the government army so that it can effectively tackle the Revolutionary United Front rebels.

Roles

The large UN peacekeeping force serving in Sierra Leone has so far failed to secure peace and is beset by internal arguments and low morale.

Calls for UK forces to bolster UN peacekeeping again
Despite being the largest UN peacekeeping force currently serving, it appears to be much less than the sum of its parts.

In contrast the UK forces, who are not part of the UN mission, appear capable of achieving much more than their current training mission allows.

There is still no answer as to why UK soldiers were captured on patrol in an area known to be extremely dangerous.

The British training camp is a long way from the rebel-held territory where the British military patrol was kidnapped.

Resolve

The show of force by UK paratroops in rescuing the kidnapped forces, in which more than 20 of the West Side Boys militia are said to have been killed, will have sent an intentionally clear warning message to other armed militias in Sierra Leone.

rebel, West Side Boys
The West Side Boys have been all but dismantled
It will not result in a withdrawal of British forces from the West African nation, as has been called for by the UK opposition Conservative Party.

And will strengthen British resolve to continue with their training mission to show they will not kowtow to armed militias.

Indeed, many parties - not least the embattled Sierra Leonean Government - would welcome an expanded role.

The other main UK opposition party, the Liberal Democrats, has called for Britain to contribute a battalion of troops to the UN force in Sierra Leone

So far the British say they intend to stick firmly to their official mission.

Defence Minister Geoff Hoon says the UK is committed only to training.

But the role of the British forces in Sierra Leone is reviewed every six weeks, and the temptation must be to expand their role.

In the meantime the killings and lootings continue.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
"They were in a dangerous area and we want to know precisely why"
Conservative Defence Spokesman, Iain Duncan Smith
"The Foreign Office should withdraw British troops completely"
Sierra Leone in crisis

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