Fierce fighting in Sierra Leone

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The Independent Online

UN troops joined with Sierra Leone government forces in the fiercest fighting in the latest crisis to drive rebel fighters from the southeast of the capital Freetown.

The Ministry of Defence was quick to point out that British troops, who arrived in the country this week, were not going to get involved in the fighting as their role was simply to ensure the safe evacuation of British nationals.

Rebel positions were shelled by helicopter gunships while more than 100 Nigerian ground troops used anti-aircraft guns and automatic weapons to capture territory about three miles beyond the final U.N. checkpoint at Waterloo, 21 miles from Freetown.

The battle, which lasted for over an hour, was the fiercest in Sierra Leone since rebels of the Revolutionary United Front began fresh attacks last week in defiance of a July 1999 peace deal designed to end eight years of brutal war.

The fighting started after helicopter gunships shelled suspected rebel positions.

The Nigerians, who have been present in Sierra Leone for some time in their role of regional peacekeepers, then moved in.