Tories demand inquiry over claims of 'secret agenda' in Sierra Leone

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The Independent Online

The Government yesterday faced demands from Opposition MPs for a formal inquiry into its conduct over the Sierra Leone crisis, as fierce fighting continued on the ground and there were persistent reports that rebel leader Foday Sankoh had been killed.

Seeking to exploit government discomfort over the affair, senior Conservatives rounded on ministers. The shadow Foreign Secretary, Francis Maude, accused Robin Cook of mishandling the situation and allowing Mr Sankoh and his murderous Revolutionary United Force access to both power and the diamond mines in the former colony. Iain Duncan Smith, the Opposition defence spokesman, claimed the government had always had a secret agenda to get deeply involved in Sierra Leone and warned that Britain was sinking into a "Bosnia" type quagmire.

Although Freetown was declared "secure" by the British commander in the Sierra Leone capital yesterday, the key strategic town of Masiaka with its approach route to the capital was the scene of heavy fighting between forces loyal to the government and the RUF. The rebels were ultimately driven out in an offensive planned, it was said, by British officers.

In Freetown, Britain's Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Charles Guthrie, insisted that UK forces did not intended to engage in combat and wanted to leave as soon as possible. As he spoke paratroopers continued high-profile patrols on the streets. British Special Forces are believed to be in action away from the capital.

Meanwhile, Brigadier David Richards, the British commander in Sierra Leone, said that Mr Sankoh - whose whereabouts have been unknown for almost a week - seemed to be "out of commission" and may be dead. It has been reported that Mr Sankoh was taken into "protective custody" by the Sierra Leone arm and may have died of a heart attack while being taken away.