Sierra Leonean troops seize West Side Boys' bases

September 20, 2000
Web posted at: 2332 GMT

FREETOWN (Reuters) -- Sierra Leone's government forces have captured three bases from the West Side Boys, the maverick militia who held British soldiers hostage for more than two weeks, state radio said Wednesday.

"The Sierra Leonean army is now in control of Magbini, Layah -- in the jungle -- and Masumana, on the highway between Freetown and Masiaka where the West Side Boys have ambushed hundreds of vehicles," the radio said.

Soldiers found all houses and vehicles in the town of Magbini had been burnt, it added.

The West Side Boys seized 11 British soldiers and a Sierra Leonean officer in the area Masiaka, some 47 miles east of Freetown, on August 25. They released five Britons after a short time.

As negotiations dragged for the release of the remaining captives, British troops launched a rescue operation at their main base in the Occra Hills area on September 10, freeing all the hostages.

Sierra Leone's government said at the time that the British attack, in which 25 West Side Boys fighters were said to have been killed, had considerably weakened the militia.

Witnesses said they saw 21 corpses, believed to be of West Side Boys soldiers, floating in a river downstream from the scene of the rescue.

They said men, women and children clad in military uniforms were among the dead.

Meanwhile, state radio quoted President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah as saying the highway between Freetown and Port Loko, which is approximately 30 miles northeast of the capital, had been reopened.

The highway had been closed since May, when rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) flouted a 1999 peace deal and took about 500 U.N. peacekeepers hostage.

Kabbah also said the security situation in the country, ravaged by nine years of civil war, was improving.

The United Nations has deployed 13,000 peacekeepers in Sierra Leone as part of its UNAMSIL mission, making it the biggest U.N. field operation. The Security Council is considering a British resolution to raise the U.N. force to 20,500.

"With the additional 7,000 troops expected to be approved by the Security Council, very soon almost all areas of the country will have UNAMSIL troops deployed, especially the town of Koidu in the (diamond-rich) Kono district," Kabbah said.