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UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook
"Our commitment is real and our commitment is generous"
 real 28k

Monday, 15 May, 2000, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
Sierra Leone: The role of UK forces
UK paratroopers in Sierra Leone
UK paras have secured the airport near Sierra Leone's capital
The role of British troops in Sierra Leone has been two-pronged - helping evacuation from the war-torn country and providing logistical support for the United Nations force.

There are about 1,000 British troops in and around the capital Freetown, but the UK Government insists they will not take on a combat role alongside the UN troops.

However, it has become clear that British forces are providing a leadership role for the UN troops on the ground.

British troops have been seen 20km outside Freetown, manning roadblocks at key junctions.

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

UK evacuation taskforce
700 paratroopers
Two Hercules transport planes
Four Chinook helicopters
Navy taskforce of six ships

British paratroops - about 200 members of the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment - have secured Lungi airport, outside the capital Freetown, in order to help UK, EU and Commonwealth citizens leave the country.

And securing the airport has also provided a bridgehead to allow more UN soldiers to arrive in Sierra Leone.

In New York, British experts are advising the UN on the operation in Sierra Leone.

Robin Cook
Robin Cook: No combat role for UK troops
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook will not be drawn on what British troops would do if UN forces were under attack and taking casualties.

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."

Mr Cook has said he and UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon are monitoring the situation on a day to day basis and have no fixed timetable for their role.

Navy taskforce

A Royal Navy taskforce, including 800 Royal Marines, has arrived off the coast of Sierra Leone.

It includes the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, which has been diverted from training operations, the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, frigate HMS Chatham, two landing ships and a supply ship, HMS Fort Austin.

Four RAF Chinook helicopters are being used to airlift equipment and carry evacuees from outlying areas in Sierra Leone.

Mr Cook is pressing countries contributing to the UN force in Sierra Leone to provide 3,000 more troops to help the UN force reach its mandated strength of 11,000.

The UK has also offered vehicles as part of further logistical support.

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