British officer advised gunship killers

A senior RAF officer has been advising mercenaries in Sierra Leone, who are accused of killing civilians in helicopter gunship raids on rebel strongholds.

A senior RAF officer has been advising mercenaries in Sierra Leone, who are accused of killing civilians in helicopter gunship raids on rebel strongholds.

The Ministry of Defence admitted yesterday that the officer was liaising with a small group of mercenaries hired by the Sierra Leone government to repel rebel attacks on the capital, Freetown.

Freelance soldiers have been accused by human rights campaigners of indiscriminate attacks that have killed many civilians. The group was filmed apparently firing randomly with rockets and machine-guns at a village where rebels from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) were believed to be holed up.

The disclosure will embarrass Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary, and Geoff Hoon, Secretary of State for Defence, as they await news of six British soldiers being held hostage in Sierra Leone. Last night 150 soldiers from The Parachute Regiment were on stand-by in Senegal, ready to rescue the men if necessary.

It will also rekindle a dispute over British links with some of the same mercenaries two years ago. Mr Cook, now at the United Nations summit in New York, said then that British forces would never co-operate with mercenaries and that their presence in Sierra Leone was "a menace". He said last year: "We are not aware of any British mercenary involvement in the current conflict but we shall obviously try to ensure any such activity is within the bounds set by United Nations resolutions, which we shall seek to enforce if any mercenary activity is brought to our attention."

The activity has breached a United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for "the utmost vigilance against the menace posed by the activities of mercenaries" and a demand by a special UN committee for the withdrawal of all private military operators from the West African state.

The British squadron leader, who has not been named, was spotted by a film crew from the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) at a barracks in the Sierra Leonean capital. The Ministry of Defence confirmed his presence in the operations room of a former South African soldier, Neall Ellis. Mr Ellis's team, which works for the Freetown government, flies two helicopter gunships reportedly paid for by internationaldiamond-mining interests.

Mr Ellis previously flew a helicopter for Sandline International, the mercenary company that broke a UN embargo when it shipped weapons to Sierra Leone in 1998. Before that he worked for Executive Outcomes, another mercenary company. Both were founded by Tony Buckingham, a millionaire with mineral interests.

Mr Ellis told the ABC journalists that the RAF officer "is here as an adviser, but he is basically running the place".

Yesterday a Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said the officer was present earlier in the summer to co-ordinate the RAF's own airborne operations with Mr Ellis's work rather than directing his raids. Asked if the officer was in charge of the operations room, she said: "That is possibly very true. He would be there as an adviser but presumably he would be in more authority than Neall Ellis. We are working with the Sierra Leone government. If they use private military companies that is up to them."

The officer was in Sierra Leone with Operation Palliser, a mission to secure Lunghi airport in Freetown and to train the country's army.

The ABC filmed Mr Ellis and his crew shooting at a village that had been overrun by the RUF. The pilot was recorded discussing a group of men who could be seen below: "I'm not sure if they are civilians or not - there are not supposed to be any civilians here - it's all supposed to be a rebel area," he said before his men opened fire.

Corrine Dufka of the US-based Human Rights Watch told the ABC that the mercenaries were killing civilians.

Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
Sport
Mario Balotelli in action during his Liverpool debut
football ...but he can't get on the scoresheet in impressive debut
Environment
Pigeons have been found with traces of cocaine and painkillers in their system
environmentCan species be 'de-extincted'?
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
A Pilgrim’s Progress is described by its publisher as “the one-and-only definitive record” of David Hockney's life and works
people
Sport
Loic Remy signs for Chelsea
footballBlues wrap up deal on the eve of the transfer window
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

£100 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Randstad Education are curren...

Web Developer (Infrastructure, JavaScript, jQuery, jQuery UI)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Web Developer (Infrastructure, JavaScript, jQuer...

DT Technician

£65 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: DT Technician required to start...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: One of SThree's most successfu...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor