Stand-off on Sierra Leone hostages

THE FOREIGN Office played down hopes yesterday for an immediate release of the remaining hostages, including three Britons, held by rebels in Sierra Leone.

The newly appointed Foreign Office minister, Peter Hain, spoke in London of an "incredibly volatile and confused" situation. "We're hopeful that the remaining hostages, including the three remaining British officers, will come out sooner rather than later," he told BBC Radio. "I'm hopeful that it will happen within the next day or two."

The intermediary who brought back 19 hostages from the Occra Hills on Sunday has returned "hopefully to get the rest", according to the Foreign Office.

The three British officers, all majors and part of the United Nations observer mission in the West African country, are being held with up to 24 other people in a village some 30 miles east of the capital, Freetown. On Sunday, 19 people were released, including two British officers, and it became clear that the original group of those abducted had numbered nearly 50.

They were taken last Wednesday during an observer mission to the Occra Hills where they were due to oversee the handover to aid workers of several hundred child prisoners.

The hostages are being held by a group from the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), which wants to know that its leader, Johnny Paul Koroma, is not a prisoner of the main rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

According to some reports, which were not confirmed by the Foreign Office spokesman in Freetown, the AFRC was sending four men to Monrovia, the capital of neighbouring Liberia, to see Mr Koroma. If the report is accurate, no more hostages will be freed until the men are satisfied that Mr Koroma is a free man and have returned to tell the kidnappers.

The hostage-takers are also believed to be asking for guarantees of their own safety, perhaps in the form of a letter from the Sierra Leone President, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. They want better recognition under a 7 July peace deal for Sierra Leone, which they feel favours the RUF.

The Britons remaining in captivity are Major M Rawlings, Major G Bradley and Major T Lyle. They are with one other United Nations military observer, believed to be from Kyrgyzstan. There are also up to 19 Nigerian peace- keepers with them and one civilian.

On Sunday, among the 19 people released, were Britons Lt-Col Ian Howard- Williams and Major Justin McEwan. They were taken with other released military to Marine House, the villa of the United States Marines, in Freetown.

Yesterday, Michael O'Flaherty, from the UN Human Rights Commission, said there was "no evidence of physical harm" having been done to the men. "They have all been given access to medical assistance and trauma support," he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing