UN peace-keeping troops killed in clash with Sierra Leone insurgents

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The Independent Online

At least four United Nations peace-keepers in Sierra Leone have been killed, three wounded and 49 unarmed military observers captured in clashes with rebels, UN officials said yesterday.

Many more peace-keepers are unaccounted for after an outbreak of violence that deals a blow to the peace process under way in the country. The announcement contradicted earlier reports suggesting that Revolutionary United Front rebels had taken hostage 20 UN personnel. The RUF is in theory part of a power-sharing government, its leader, Foday Sankoh, having been brought in to a coalition as part of the peace process.

Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, and the Security Council condemned the rebel actions. The Security Council was expected to hold emergency consultations.

A UN statement said the clashes were on Tuesday night, when the RUF attacked UN positions in Makeni and Magburaka. The nationalities of the dead are not known.

The statement said that "about 49 UN personnel are currently being held by the RUF in Makeni, Magburaka and Kailahun. Many others are not traceable, due to the fluid situation. Negotiations are continuing for the release of those being held."

Earlier Mr Sankoh said he had ordered the release of a group of Kenyan peace-keepers held by his men in Makeni.

The UN troops have been operating in Sierra Leone to enforce a peace deal signed by the warring parties last year.

The accord, which aims to end a nine-year civil war, called for the disarming and demobilisation of an estimated 45,000 fighters.

Mr Annan called on the RUF "to cease these acts immediately" and to uphold the terms of the peace agreement. A statement said the actions were tantamount to a violation of last year's ceasefire deal, signed in Lomé, capital of Togo.

UN military commanders accused Mr Sankoh and the RUF leadership of attempting to sabotage the peace process.

The clashes and hostage- taking came as the West African intervention force, known as Ecomog, pulled out of Sierra Leone. Ecomog defended the government against the rebels during the civil war.

The UN has deployed 8,500 soldiers in Sierra Leone, and the force is shortly to be reinforced by another 3,000.

The peace-keepers, mainly Indians, Kenyans and Nigerians, are authorised to use force under a UN mandate but have so far steered clear of direct confrontation. The RUF is believed to have massacred tens of thousands of civilians and maimed thousands more, including children.