British troops praised over Sierra Leone action

UN secretary general Kofi Annan has told Tony Blair that British forces in Sierra Leone are having a "critical impact" on the situation in the war-torn western African state, according to a letter released by Downing Street.

Mr Annan thanked the Prime Minister for Britain's action, saying he would "continue to rely on the resolve and readiness of the UK to support the UN at the political level as well as on the ground".

But he did not request any further commitment from the UK to take on combat responsibilities as part of UNAMSIL, the UN peacekeeping force.

Pro-Government forces in Sierra Leone were today reported to have driven rebel troops of the Revolutionary United Front away from the capital Freetown, in battles involving rocket attacks from helicopter gunships.

But the Ministry of Defence denied reports that British troops had provided "logistical and co-ordination support" for the operation, saying that such support was being offered only to the UN peacekeepers.

The Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Charles Guthrie was today starting a four-day visit to the region, which will include visits to British troops stationed in both Senegal and Sierra Leone.

The MoD said his visit had been planned as a fact-finding mission before the current unrest began, but would now include visits to UK troops on active service.

Meanwhile Sierra Leoneans living in Britain were today rallying at Downing Street to plead with the UK to increase its involvement in ridding their land of the RUF rebels, who have been implicated in thousands of atrocities in the decade-long civil war.

But the UK Government insists that the 600-strong British contingent in Sierra Leone will not be sucked into the war, and is there only to help evacuate UK, EU and Commonwealth citizens and to provide logistical support to UNAMSIL.

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