Hopes grow for hostages held by Sierra Leone rebels

Hopes are rising that 10 European hostages being held by rebels in Sierra Leone will soon be freed. The men - six Britons, three Swiss and a German - are captives of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which is seeking the overthrow of the West African nation's military regime.

The location of the hostages remains unknown, though all 10 are believed to be together somewhere in the interior.

``We are in regular contact with the rebels,'' said Primo Corvaro of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is negotiating for their freedom. ``The release could happen at any time and right now the mood is very positive.''

Most of the hostages were employed in the once lucrative mines of the south-west, which were overrun in January as the RUF escalated its campaign against the country's economic installations.

One of the Swiss men worked in the timber industry, while two of the Britons were with the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) organisation. The VSO workers have been held since early November.

Negotiations for their release are being conducted with a man who claims to be Colonel Foday Sankoh, the mysterious leader of the RUF. The rebel movement, which was launched in 1991 with the backing of Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia, has recently started attacking the outskirts of the capital, Freetown.

``It's always the same voice on the short-wave radio,'' said Mr Corvaro, ``and we believe it to be Foday Sankoh. He says the hostages are being held for their own security.''

It is possible the hostages were taken as much for the protection of the RUF as for their own safety. Blame was put on the rebels when two ICRC nurses were killed in 1993 and again last year, when four expatriates were murdered in the interior.

The RUF claims that the government army committed the murders in order to make the rebels appear guilty.Though the ICRC has not yet talked directly to the hostages, diplomats who have communicated with them report they are in good health.

A team of Scotland Yard detectives is in Freetown to help with negotiations for the release of the six Britons. Last month seven Roman Catholic nuns - six Italians and a Brazilian - were freed unharmed by the rebels.

Though Col Sankoh has requested humanitarian assistance for his people, whom he says are suffering, it is understood that no firm conditions have been made for the hostages' release.

There were nearly 800 British nationals registered with the British High Commission in Sierra Leone but fewer than that now remain due to the precarious security situation. Early last week an Irish Catholic priest was killed by rebels in the north of the country. The Foreign Office is advising only those with urgent business to remain in the country.

Action Aid has already pulled out and other non-governmental organisations have drawn up plans for the emergency evacuation of their staff in the event of the rebels launching a big attack on the capital.

However, it is not believed they will be able to take the capital unless a significant part of the army defects. The rebels have been able to disrupt the country by attacking villages and roads at will.

Main towns remain in government hands but large areas of the interior are insecure. Mineral production - which accounted for nearly two-thirds of foreign-exchange earnings - has been halted and diamond mining has been severely affected. Attempts to bring the rebels to peace talks have so far failed.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...