Buildings burned and artillery explosions have been rocking the capital of Sierra Leone as rebels and troops defending the government each insisted that they are controlling Freetown.
The rebels claimed they had taken over the capital of this West African nation and forced a Nigerian-led coalition that is backing the government to retreat.
But the Nigerian Defence Ministry said its Western African peacekeeping force ECOMOG had the situation in hand and was preparing to drive the rebels out.
Nigerian-led peacekeepers and their freelance militia allies have been consolidating their control of the Aberdeen district in Freetown.
Their leadership claims that they were driving rebels out of Sierra Leone’s capital and had retaken the presidency building
But so far it has been impossible to confirm it since telephone lines to Freetown have been cut, virtually severing communications with the outside world.
“Fighting has been rough in the last few days, I would say. But now everything is under control”
SUPER CAPTION: Thomas Philip Lamba, Kamajor Unit Commander
Despite ECOMOG’s statement, witnesses say they have heard heavy shelling and gunfire coming from the central district of Freetown which the Nigerian-led intervention force lost to the rebels last week.
Aid agencies have sounded alarm over the plight of the civilians trapped in their houses unable even to bury their dead.
Food and water is reported to be running out and the sporadic electricity supply to the city has failed completely.
“For the country to return to normal to what it was twenty years ago the problem is left with us the Sierra Leoneans, we have to think deep down what we really want for this country, whether we want it completely destroyed or if we want to rebuild it”
SUPER CAPTION: Tejan Fadlu-Deen, Fisheries Economist
“These people are so wicked, they are so destructive, they are so deceitful, failing to realise that this country belongs to us, this is our land”
SUPER CAPTION: Reverend Winnifred Turay
The latest conflict has claimed casualties – the Red Cross said 126 people were being treated for wounds at a Red Cross-operated hospital in Freetown.
Fighting in the capital on Sunday killed Myles Tierney, a video journalist for Associated Press Television News, and seriously wounded Ian Stewart, the AP’s bureau chief in Ivory Coast.
In Washington, U-S State Department Spokesman James Rubin expressed his condolences to the family of Myles Tierney.
“We express our deepest condolences to the family of Myles Tierney an A-P Television News producer who was killed on the 10th in Sierra Leone while covering the unrest in that West African country, it just points up the extraordinary risk that people in your profession go through to report the news from around the world. Our consellor officer in Guinea is endeavouring to work with the authorities in Sierra Leone to ascertain the exact circumstances of his death and also to provide the documents necessary for repatriation of the remains of mister Tierney to the United States”
SUPER CAPTION: James Rubin, State Department Spokesman
The rebels’ acting leader, General Sam Bockarie, last week rejected a ceasefire proclaimed by President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah.
Kabbah returned to power 10 months ago after ECOMOG ousted the rebels, who had gained control during a bloody coup in May 1997.
Since then, the insurgents have been rebuilding, strengthened by defections from Sierra Leone’s military and mercenaries from Liberia.
They launched a renewed offensive in December and battled their way into the capital on Wednesday.
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