Freetown left without food

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The Independent Online
EMERGENCY FOOD and medicines are unable to reach Sierra Leone's war-battered capital, Freetown, aid workers said yesterday. The shipments are held up by security fears and logistical problems.

An aid ship carrying 18,000 tons of rice from Italy was waiting off Freetown and could land the first significant food consignment since fighting engulfed the city two weeks ago.

"The captain says he wants guarantees of security before he will come to port," said a source at Ecomog, the Nigerian-led West African force defending the capital from the Revolutionary United Front.

Ecomog said on Tuesday it had cleared the rebels from the Kissy port area, and its officers said yesterday they were putting in place security for aid ships.

But aid agencies in the regional centre in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, were more guarded. "Even if we have security, logistics will be a major problem," said a spokesman for the World Food Programme (WFP).

Foreign relief workers who fled two weeks ago have not yet returned. Local workers who stayed behind are trying to function without communications equipment confiscated by Ecomog, which accuses them of spying for the rebels.

Aid agencies have said that famine and disease could sweep through the city's population of about 1 million. The city has not even counted its dead from a battle that began with an RUF rebel assault on 6 January. (Reuters)