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2000: British marines leave Sierra Leone
The major contingent of the British military task force sent to help restore order in the West African state of Sierra Leone has left the country.

The departure of the prestigious Royal Marines was overseen by British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who said his government was proud of what they had done to restore stability.

Britain, the former colonial power in Sierra Leone, is handing responsibility for security to the United Nations.

About 300 UK troops and support staff will stay on in the war-torn African country for the next six to eight weeks to help establish a UK military advisory training team.

Most people in Freetown would prefer to see the British military continuing their confidence-building street patrols, but British ministers always insisted their mission to help the UN forces there was a short-term one.

The UN have a much stronger resolve now and are clearer about their mandate
Brigadier David Richards
Brigadier David Richards, commander of the British forces in Sierra Leone, told BBC Radio's Today programme: "The UN have a much stronger resolve now and are clearer about their mandate and have shown that they have the resolve to fight.

"When we arrived here about six weeks ago, they did appear on the verge of collapse. Today they have been transformed."

At the core of the continuing British effort will be the retraining of the demoralised Sierra Leone army.

Many of its soldiers - some of whom are children - are poorly trained and equipped.

Sierra Leone continues to face horrendous problems. A war is being fought in the countryside about which there is little reliable information.

The UN says that one million people have been affected.

The rebels hold the main diamond-producing area, which deprives the government of revenue and, it is alleged, attracts support for the rebels from neighbouring Liberia.

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British troops preparing to leave
More than 300 troops will stay behind

In Context
Sierra Leone's civil war saw nearly half the country's 4.5 million population displaced.

At least 50,000 people died in the fighting and there were an estimated 100,000 victims of mutilation.

The economy was left in ruins and the country's infrastructure collapsed.

British troops entered Sierra Leone because a peace deal between government and rebels had broken down and rebel forces were scoring successes against the Sierra Leone army and the UN peacekeeping force.

In 2002 more than 17,000 foreign troops disarmed tens of thousands of rebels and militia fighters. The country now faces the challenge of reconstruction.

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