Sierra Leone kidnappers threaten to kill Britons

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Rebels in the west African nation of Sierra Leone were threatening to kill six British hostages last night unless Britain ceased supporting the country's military regime.

The rebels seized two Britons in a raid on a mining company yesterday morning. The Foreign Office named them as Peter White and Andrew Young, who worked for Sierra Rutile, which manages an open cast titanium dioxide mine.

Two other British expatriates, James Westwood and Ross Milne, were captured in a separate attack against a mine owned by the Swiss company Alusuisse on Wednesday. Two Swiss nationals and a German were also abducted.

The British High Commission in Freetown was contacted yesterday by the two longest-held British captives, who were reported missing on 7 November last year. It was the first sign that the two men, Robert D'Cruz and Callum Murray, who worked for VoluntaryService Overseas, were still alive.

The two men yesterday spoke to British diplomats by radio. A man claiming to be the rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, had earlier called the British High Commission to say he held the two but offered no proof of their well-being.

Britain last year agreed to resume aid to Sierra Leone, pledging £4m subject to progress towards reform. British aid had been suspended in 1992 after a series of summary executions. A Foreign Office spokesman last night said Britain gave no military assistance to the regime.

Baroness Chalker, a minister of state at the Foreign Office, said the abductions "are a source of very great concern to us". She said the British government was in touch with the Sierra Leone authorities, describing the situation as "fluid and confused".Sporadic fighting between government troops and rebels was reported from the area yesterday.

A rebellion by the self-styled Revolutionary United Front in the south of the country has brought banditry and chaos to its people for the last four years. One of the poorest nations on earth, Sierra Leone was a British colony until it won independence

in 1961.

British officials insisted there would be no change of policy towards the government of Captain Valentine Strasser, which seized power in a coup in 1992.