Hostage troops freed by Army assault on Sierra Leone rebels

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The Independent Online

British troops today attacked a rebel base in Sierra Leone, freeing six soldiers held hostage by the West Side Boys militia gang.

British troops today attacked a rebel base in Sierra Leone, freeing six soldiers held hostage by the West Side Boys militia gang.

Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Charles Guthrie announced the news in a television interview this morning. He said the operation had begun at 6.30am and was still continuing.

He confirmed the hostages were safe - but said it was too early to know whether the British troops had suffered casualties in the operation.

The head of the British armed forces said fighting was still going on, and action had been taken because negotiations for the release of the soldiers had been getting nowhere.

"We decided to attack the place where the hostages are being held at half past six this morning," Sir Charles said on BBC 1's Breakfast with Frost programme.

"The first indications are that the hostages are safe. I don't know whether we have had any casualties. We didn't want to have to do this."

He said Prime Minister Tony Blair had been fully informed of the operation and had given his full backing.

A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Blair authorised on Wednesday the troops to move in, and gave the final go-ahead for the mission yesterday afternoon.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said that British troops had started military operations earlier today in the Occra Hills to the east of the capital Freetown.

He said Britain had tried to negotiate a solution and had some initial success with the release of the five hostages - but as time passed it became clear that the West Side Boys were stringing the negotiators along to get more and more concessions.

No negotiations had occurred for four days, so today it was decided that talking was not working and military action was necessary.

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