Rebels overrun diamond capital

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The Independent Online
REBELS OVERRAN the diamond capital of Koidu in the east of Sierra Leone on Saturday when West African and allied forces withdrew after fierce fighting, survivors and aid workers said on Sunday.

In Freetown, the West African Ecomog troops told people to leave the Lumley beach resort on Sunday as artillery fire could be heard in the distance, witnesses said.

The rebels launched their attack on Koidu on Wednesday, but were initially beaten back by the Nigerian-led Ecomog troops supported by Kamajor traditional hunters.

"The battle continued until early yesterday when the Ecomog troops and Kamajors pulled back to the outskirts of the town," Alpha Jalloh, 45, a diamond miner, told reporters in Freetown. He was shot in the leg in the fighting and was taken to the capital with other wounded by military helicopter.

Ecomog officers said they withdrew to limit civilian casualties. "We are giving the civilians a few days to leave the town, then we will strike and crush the rebels," an officer said.

Survivors in Freetown told of bodies lying in the streets. Aid workers said thousands of civilians had fled Koidu. (Reuters)