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Friday, January 16, 1998 Published at 20:13 GMT


The United Nations special envoy to Sierra Leone, Francis Okello, has ended a three-day visit to the capital, Freetown, with a call for the return to power of the ousted civilian leader, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, who was ousted from power in a coup d'etat last May. One of Mr Okello's aims was to assess the possibility of deploying UN military observers to help reduce tensions and smooth the return to power of ousted President Kabbah. Our West Africa correspondent, Mark Doyle, reports from Abidjan:

Mr Okello said constitutional rule had to be restored and the legitimate government of President Kabbah had to be returned to power.

Mr Okello has made statements like this before, and West African leaders have been backing his efforts to end military rule in Sierra Leone for many months.

But there are now signs that the wider international community may also be prepared to work for democracy in Sierra Leone.

A special envoy of the former colonial power, Britain, Mr John Flynn, said on Thursday that Britain was considering sending military observers to join the UN observer force Mr Okello would like to form.

The role of any such force would probably be to monitor the security situation during a handover to civilian rule, although the exact details are far from worked out.

There are also severe practical constraints to mounting any observer mission.

Sierra Leone was devastated by a civil war before the coup, and since the military take-over, there has been widespread looting and insecurity in the capital, Freetown.

Vehicles, communications equipment and logistical supplies would all have to be imported for the observer mission to get under way.

This is why the British commitment to at least be considering sending military observers is highly significant: it could kickstart the process of assembling the UN mission.

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