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DATE=7/22/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=SIERRA LEONE / CLASH (L) NUMBER=2-264700 BYLINE=PURNELL MURDOCK DATELINE=ABIDJAN CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: United Nations peacekeepers in Sierra Leone have attacked positions held by a dissident militia group that had been part of a government coalition against rebels in the country. V-O-A correspondent Purnell Murdock reports from our West Africa Bureau. TEXT: U-N officials say the early morning attack targeted the militia's base in Okra Hills, around 80 kilometers outside the capital, Freetown. U-N peacekeeping mission spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu says the operation was launched after the militia group, known as the West-Side Boys, began harassing army and other traffic on the road between Freetown and the international airport. /// Befecadu Act /// As part of the operation, all unofficial checkpoints on the road not put there by UNAMSIL (the U-N peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone) were cleared. Any resistance will be met by force, in accordance with the mission's mandate. In addition, all key locations in Freetown are secured to insure that the peaceful situation that now prevails in Freetown is not threatened. /// End Act /// The West-Side Boys militia is composed of forces loyal to the junta that ousted civilian president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah in May 1997. The group has been involved in recent clashes with members of Sierra Leone's pro-government alliance, despite having declared its allegiance to the government. The United Nations has called on the faction to disarm, but they have, so far, refused to do so. This is the latest major offensive carried out by the U-N peacekeeping force. Last week, U-N troops destroyed a major rebel camp in the east of the country after freeing more than 200 peacekeepers surrounded by the rebels. U-N peacekeeping officials say they are taking a more aggressive approach to their mission in Sierra Leone. But U-N spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu insists the U-N mandate is unchanged. /// Befecadu Act /// We are not taking sides. What we are saying is, where we are deployed and where we are trying to maintain peace for all citizens, we would appreciate any group stays away from that. Therefore, what we are trying to do now is after having told them that they should not in any way obstruct the route from Lungi (international airport) to Freetown, we have been forced to use force to clear that. /// End Act /// The U-N group's new aggressiveness follows criticism that the force was not prepared for its mission in Sierra Leone. Last May, more than 500 U-N soldiers were held captive for several weeks by Revolutionary United Front rebels. They were released with the help of neighboring Liberian president Charles Taylor. (signed) NEB/WPM/JP 22-Jul-2000 14:02 PM LOC (22-Jul-2000 1802 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .





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