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
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor