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Saturday, December 26, 1998 Published at 00:35 GMT


Britons return from Sierra Leone

Intensified fighting prompted Foreign Office action

British evacuees from war-torn Sierra Leone have arrived back in London.

More than 35 evacuees - most of whom are British - arrived at Heathrow on board an RAF Tristar from Dakar.

[ image: The evacuees were welcomed home]
The evacuees were welcomed home
The emergency evacuation took place following hit-and-run raids on villages by rebel infiltrators on Tuesday.

On Christmas Eve, RAF Hercules C-130 transport planes carried some 80 people out of Sierra Leone to Dakar, 500 miles further up the West African coast.

The Foreign Office spokesman said the evacuations were a "precautionary measure" in the light of a "deteriorating security situation".

BBC Correspondent Paul Anstiss: Evacuation a precautionary measure
The Foreign Office has advised UK citizens in Sierra Leone to leave the country because fighting had intensified.

A few more evacuees may be flown out of the former British colony on the same route on Christmas Day.

Foreign Office minister Tony Lloyd said: "We are doing all we can to protect the interests of British people in Sierra Leone."

He said the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence had "pulled out all the stops" to evacuate all British nationals who wanted to leave, as well as the non-essential staff of the British High Commission and their dependants.

Mark Doyle reports: Some British nationals said the Foreign Office had overreacted
Mr Lloyd added: "But our strong support for the democratically-elected government of President Kabbah remains undiminished.

"We continue to lead international support for the legitimate government in Sierra Leone, and we are in close touch with our partners in the Security Council and elsewhere on how to take things forward."

Some Britons remain

Armed Forces minister Doug Henderson added: "This operation was an excellent demonstration of the outstanding professionalism and dedication of our military personnel and of our commitment to British nationals overseas.

"I am most grateful to all those involved for giving up their Christmas to carry out this essential task."

Lt Col Graham McKinley: "We don't want to let our friends down"
But some British nationals have decided to stay in spite of the warnings.

Lieutenant Colonel Graham McKinley, a former defence attache, said the British High Commissioner and a number of other diplomatic and UN missions had remained.

He said: "We want to stay with them, we are part of the community here, we've been here for a long time, and we don't want to let our Sierra Leonean friends down."

The Foreign Office has opened an information line for relatives of Britons being evacuated from Sierra Leone.

The number is 0171 839 1010.

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