Sierra Leone capital attacked

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The Independent Online
WEST AFRICAN peacekeepers repelled a rebel attack on the outskirts of Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, yesterday, shelling the hills around Hastings, the site of the main airport.

On Wednesday the Nigerian-led peacekeepers failed to hold on to the central town of Lunsar, 60 miles east of Freetown, prompting claims by the UN representative in Sierra Leone, Francis Okello, that rebel forces had taken control of more than half the territory of the former British colony.

The attack on Hastings came after an assault on another outpost of the capital at Waterloo, 18 miles east of the city. The spokesman for the West African force, Ecomog, said that at least 40 people had been killed in the latest round of fighting.

Fighting broke out in Sierra Leone in 1991, and worsened after an army faction in 1997 ousted the elected president, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. Ecomog restored President Kabbah to power in March, with strong British support, but the fighting has intensified.

Sierra Leone's Information Minister, Julius Spencer, yesterday denied that the rebels controlled the whole of the north of Sierra Leone, although he admitted that Lunsar and the northern capital of Makeni were in rebel hands.

Reinforcements have poured into Sierra Leone from Nigeria - more than 7,000 since the weekend, boosting the force to around 17,000. The rebel forces are estimated at 20,000.

The rebels are demanding the removal from power of President Kabbah and the release of their captured leader, Foday Sankoh, who has been sentenced to death in Freetown for treason. Their cause enjoys little support in the capital, owing to what appears a well-deserved reputation for committing atrocities against civilians.