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Brigadier David Richards
"We have created the conditions to allow us to come out"
 real 28k

UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook
"The peace-keeping force has a very robust mandate"
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The BBC's Jane Standley in Freetown
"The Royal Marines are following in the Paras' footsteps"
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Wednesday, 24 May, 2000, 08:43 GMT 09:43 UK
Sierra Leone pull-out 'on target'
A British military helicopter over Sierra Leone
On patrol: British forces in Sierra Leone
The commander of British forces in Sierra Leone has said troops remain on target to leave the African nation by the middle of June.

Speaking after the government confirmed that the UK would be training, equipping and arming Sierra Leone's government forces, Brigadier David Richards said that the development had led to no "broad change" to the UK's mission in its former colony.

British forces, led by the 600-strong First Batallion Parachute Regiment, have secured Lungi airport outside the capital Freetown to allow the United Nations to send in more troops.

On Tuesday Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told MPs that they would be replaced by Four-Two Commando of the Royal Marines as the first stage of a full British withdrawal.

'Mission aims met'

Sierra Leone's President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah spoke to ministers to thank the UK for its offer of training and arms on Tuesday.

A British marine on a beach in Sierra Leone
Royal Marines: Replacing Parachute Regiment
But the UK has insisted that it will not become part of the UN mission in Sierra Leone and its pull-out remains on schedule.

Speaking from British headquarters in Sierra Leone, Brigadier Richards said: "The decision (to pull out by mid June) was based to a large extent on the advice that we were able to provide to policy makers in Whitehall.

"Lungi Airport is secure. We have been working since our arrival to create the conditions in which we would be able to leave by mid June.

"The UN in increasingly (mission) capable and the government forces are taking the battle forward towards the RUF heartlands."

Brigadier Richards said that British troops would not leave Sierra Leone in any manner which would destabilise the capital or tip the balance towards the rebel forces.

He said that while government troops could not be compared to a western force, he believed that his faith in their ability to take on rebels was now well placed.

Stability aim

Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday, Geoff Hoon said that the government's priority remained "promoting stability and security" in Sierra Leone.

President Kabbah of Sierra Leone
President Kabbah: Thanked UK for aid
"Our decision to enhance the capability of the Sierra Leone army is an essential element of that," he told MPs.

The UK will send experts to initially assess the Sierra Leonean army's needs, followed by a larger detachment to train and equip the forces.

Both Tories and Liberal Democrats have backed the government's move after initial party divisions amid fears that British troops would be dragged into combat through "mission creep".

But the Liberal Democrat's foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell warned that turning the Sierra Leone army into an effective fighting force could take an unquantifiable length of time.

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See also:

22 May 00 | UK Politics
Sierra Leone mission 'unchanged'
23 May 00 | UK Politics
Tories back government on Sierre Leone
23 May 00 | Africa
Rebel deadline prompts fears
23 May 00 | UK Politics
UK to arm Sierra Leone forces
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