Sierra Leone bids farewell to UN troops

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The Independent Online

Three years ago, 17,500 soldiers were sent to the capital, Freetown, and the surrounding country to end an 11-year civil war which cost 50,000 lives and displaced two million people.

In the weeks leading to the UN pull-out, Sierra Leone has looked to its own army and police force to maintain order. At the same time the country is caught up in an election campaign involving more than seven political parties all hoping to gain power in 2007.

The ruling Sierra Leone People's Party was accused of ordering the arrest this month of Charles Margai, a high-profile politician who had been campaigning on his own after quitting the party in the summer. Mr Margai now faces criminal charges including conspiracy linked to running an illegal opposition party.

Theresa Sesay, one of the founding members of Forum of African Women Educationalists in Sierra Leone, said the government had to hold its nerve. "Politicians have to be careful that their actions don't provoke more violence," she said. "We mustn't return to the bad old days."