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Sunday, 10 September, 2000, 09:23 GMT 10:23 UK
Britain's role in Sierra Leone
British marines in Sierra Leone
About 200 UK troops remain in Sierra Leone in a training capacity
The kidnap of 11 British soldiers in Sierra Leone by a renegade militia that is nominally on the side of the government once again raised questions about the United Kingdom's involvement in its former West African colony.

In the current crisis, 1,000 British troops were initially sent to help with the evacuation of foreign nationals, but have gone on to provide logistical support to the beleaguered UN operation, and training for government forces.

In May British troops secured the capital, Freetown and the airport. They were reported to have confronted the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in at least one battle that left close to 20 rebels dead.

UN soldier
More than 500 UN troops were captured by the rebels in Sierra Leone
The UK troops also assisted in capturing the rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, and laid out a military strategy which eventually forced the RUF to retreat.

Only 200 Royal Irish Regiment soldiers remain. They are according to the UK's Ministry of Defence a short-term training team for the government army, and have no other military role.

Observers have pointed out that the kidnap of the British soldiers was an crisis waiting to happen given the chaos in the country and the humiliating experience of United Nations troops at the hands of the Revolutionary United Front.

The military commitment of the UK to backing the government in Freetown has also been questioned. Observers have asked why the British military role is so limited, given the precarious situation in Sierra Leone.

UN-British clash

The commander of UN forces in Sierra Leone has said that the British troops who were kidnapped were travelling in an area where they should not have been.

General Mohamed Garba, the Nigerian commander of UN forces in the West African state, said that the soldiers had failed to tell the UN about their activities and he disputed the British account of the kidnapping.

According to British officials, the 11 soldiers were returning on the main road to the capital Freetown after meetings with Jordanian UN peacekeepers.

But General Garba insisted that the troops were captured while deep inside the militia-held jungle, and denied they had met the Jordanian troops.

Non-military aid

Over the past five years, Britain's decision to maintain non-military links with war-torn Sierra Leone has been at a high cost.

More money, more aid per head of population and more political action has been directed at the former British colony than any other African country.

Aid by air: Britain's support has continued
The Labour Government has committed more than 65m since March 1998, including 14m from the Department for International Development, for the government of Sierra Leone's Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme.

The project aimed to disarm and reintegrate about 45,000 former combatants into civilian life.

The Department for International Development's substantial assistance package is also supposed to help strengthen the media, boost anti-corruption measures, support the budget, and help with the restoration of local Paramount Chiefs, and the rebuilding of the legal system.

Colonial links

In 1787, Britain established a refuge in Sierra Leone for freed slaves from all parts of Africa, with Freetown as the capital.

The Creoles, as they came to be known, who were cut off from their traditions by the experience of slavery, assimilated British lifestyles and built a flourishing trade on the West African coast.

In 1827 the first European-style university was built in Sierra Leone, which soon became a centre for English-speaking Africans from the West Coast.

However, the British and Creoles were bitterly resented by the indigenous population.

Sanctions and arms deals

A series of coups and counter-coups followed Sierra Leone's independence in 1961.

Sierra Leone: key dates
1961: Independence
1992: Strasser's coup
1996: Multi-party elections
1997: Koroma's coup
1998: Ecomog storm Freetown
1999: Peace accord
In May 1997 Major General Johnny Paul Koroma deposed President Kabbah, who had been democratically elected in multi-party elections in 1996.

On 8 October 1997 the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution, which Britain helped draft, introducing sanctions against the regime in Sierra Leone.

The UN resolution 1132 also introduced an international ban on the supply of arms and petroleum products.

Yet despite this ban, allies of President Kabbah hired British firm Sandline International to provide logistical support for a counter-coup.

Sandline arranged for a shipment of 35 tons of Bulgarian-made AK-47 rifles to Sierra Leone.

They say the shipment was made after consultation with the Foreign Office, and that the understanding was that the embargo only applied to the military junta, not the deposed regime of Kabbah.

Sierra Leone in crisis

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