Sierra Leone:Ghana sends troops

Ghana warned Sierra Leone coup leaders yesterday that time was running out for a negotiated settlement and dispatched troops to join a Nigerian-led force already in the country.

Ghana's acting foreign minister, Kwamena Ahwoi, urged the coup leaders to respond to diplomatic efforts and warned that if they did not, West African countries might have to use force. "It could be 24 hours, it could be a week," he said. In London the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, said foreign intervention might be required to restore order.

Nigeria, the principal regional power, said it was consulting other West African states and taking action but the United States came out against using force to restore civilian rule.

Nigeria has been flying in jeeps, armoured personnel carriers and troops to join its forces already based in Sierra Leone under a regional peace- keeping arrangement. According to military sources, Ghana is sending troops to the international airport at Lungi, north of the capital Freetown, and the smaller one at Hastings to the south, near the Nigerian military base, releasing the Nigerians for other activities.

The coup leaders, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), who toppled a civilian government elected in March 1996 after four years of military rule, said negotiations were under way to avert any attack and that there was no cause for alarm. About 2,000 foreigners have been flown out of Freetown, and others fled homes for two beachside hotels protected by Nigerian troops.

If the coup leaders "persist in upsetting an elected government, in inflicting looting and damage on the country, every effort to restore order and legitimacy will be welcome," Chief Anyaoku said. "We live in an era now where the affairs of peace and stability and democracy in one country inevitably touch on the stability and democracy in neighbouring countries. It is right that the economic community of western African states should decide not to tolerate such an unacceptable overthrow of a democratically elected government."

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