Sierra Leone rebel chief `seeks truce'

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The Independent Online
The Sierra Leonean rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, was reported yesterday to have asked if the Red Cross could negotiate a ceasefire in the four-year-old civil war, writes Richard Dowden.

Defence officials said radio contact had been made with the Revolutionary United Front and that Mr Sankoh had asked the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to open a corridor "which can be used as a neutral zone for us to talk peace''. An ICRC spokesman said the organisation would be happy to facilitate talks.

Mr Sankoh also said seven nuns taken hostage on 25 January were safe. The contact at least confirms that the rebel movement, which has made little attempt to communicate in the past two years, still exists and that its leader is alive.

Diplomats and officials had doubted whether Mr Sankoh was alive or if he had any control over the apparently random attacks that have spread over the country. It is speculated that many attacks have been by government soldiers turned bandits.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said 24,000 refugees had fled into neighbouring Guinea after the attack on Kambio, 80 miles north of Freetown, last month.