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The BBC's Allan Little in Freetown
"The people believe that the British have rescued them from a civil war"
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UK Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook
"These troops are not going to be deployed in a combat role with the UN"
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Brigadier David Richards, British Commander
"I'm quite clear about what our mandate is"
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Friday, 12 May, 2000, 08:37 GMT 09:37 UK
UK extends Sierra Leone mission
UK gunner
Fears that UK soldiers could be drawn into the fighting
British forces will have a wider mission in Sierra Leone, staying for at least another month and having a freer hand to support the United Nations, the UK Government has announced.


Our task there is first of all to make sure British lives are safe

Robin Cook
Under pressure to clarify the exact nature of British involvement in the crisis, the government said UK troops would not be committed to a combat role, but would continue to offer technical and logistical support while the UN builds up its forces.

The announcement came as it emerged that four UN military observers - three Britons and a New Zealander - who were being held captive by rebels had managed to escape and made their way to safety in Freetown.

The four had been captured in Magburaka during a conflict between Revolutionary United Front rebels and Kenyan UN peacekeepers at the beginning of last week.

British military spokesman Lieutenant Tony Cramp, said the four slipped away from their captors at the end of last week and were picked up Tuesday by a helicopter.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook would not be drawn on what British troops would do if UN forces were under attack and taking casualties.

'Force flexibility'

He told the BBC: "Our task there is first of all to make sure British lives are safe, and we've gone a long way to achieving that, and secondly to provide assistance to the UN force in making sure it is not going to be put in that position."

Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed the Sierra Leone crisis with senior ministers in an hour-long meeting at Downing Street on Thursday.

A spokesman for number 10 said Mr Blair confirmed "the British forces would continue their mission to evacuate UK and other nationals, and secure Lungi airport while the UN force builds up over the next month".

The arrival of HMS Ocean, with its complement of Royal Marines, would provide further "force flexibility", and allow for the relief of those forces already deployed.


paratroopers
Troops bolstering their position around Freetown
"Ministers agreed that an effective UN force offers the best hope for lasting peace and stability in Sierra Leone," the spokesman said.

But the BBC's diplomatic correspondent James Robbins says the statement is merely catching up with reality on the ground, where it is already clear British forces are providing a leadership role for the UN troops.

There are about 1,000 British troops in and around the capital Freetown. Sierra Leone, a former British colony, says UK soldiers have a duty to intervene to suppress the rebels and help restore peace.

The government statement allows the paratroops to provide considerable support to strengthen the UN and the wording is deliberately vague, allowing a wide range of extra help, short of joining the UN force or taking an active combat role.

Ministers do not intend to have a debate in the House of Commons on the issue, despite pressure from the Opposition.

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See also:

12 May 00 | Africa
Don't fail Sierra Leone - Annan
12 May 00 | Africa
UN observers escape from rebels
11 May 00 | Africa
UN bolsters Freetown defences
10 May 00 | Africa
Nigeria sets intervention terms
09 May 00 | Africa
Can the UN force restore peace?
10 May 00 | Africa
Brutal child army grows up
10 May 00 | Africa
Where is Foday Sankoh?
09 May 00 | Africa
BBC's key role in Sierra Leone
04 May 00 | Africa
Renewed bid to free UN troops
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