Troops foil coup in Sierra Leone

CHRISTO JOHNSON

Reuters

Freetown - Troops loyal to Sierra Leone's military government foiled a coup attempt yesterday and six officers were arrested, military sources said.

A Western diplomat and residents of Freetown, the capital, reported heavy gunfire in the early hours.

"The government in the early hours with loyal forces foiled a coup plot in which six officers have been arrested and detained at the central prison," one officer said. Earlier, senior officials at Freetown's Pademba road Central Prison said six army officers had been arrested and brought to the jail, accused of plotting a coup.

Freetown was calm but the road to the prison was sealed off and military guards around it strengthened. Residents said they heard sustained gunfire from the direction of the military headquarters.

Sources close to the government of Captain Valentine Strasser, which took power in a coup in 1992 and is fighting rebels, predicted more arrests. Military sources said heavy fighting was raging around the southern provincial capital, Bo. They said South African mercenaries using helicopter gunships were helping government troops to retake four townships in the area seized by rebels last week.

Bo residents said fighting was raging for the third day, with the Revolutionary United Front rebels putting up stiff resistance. Freetown residents said fighter jets flew sorties from the airport but that these looked different from Nigerian warplanes backing the army in the civil war which erupted in 1991.

The government hired the South Africans to train its troops after rebels came close to the capital in May. Their intervention has given the army the initiative in the fighting.

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