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CNN Today

Great Britain Evacuates Its Citizens From Sierra Leone

Aired May 9, 2000 - 2:33 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Great Britain evacuated its citizens from Sierra Leone today. Paratroopers went into the capital of Freetown before dawn and airlifted several hundred commonwealth citizens who'd gathered at a hotel there. They arrived in neighboring Senegal just a short while later.

Sierra Leone is embroiled in chaos after rebels ignored last summer's peace settlement. They've seized U.N. peacekeepers and killed and maimed many civilians.

ITN reporter Robert Moore is in Freetown.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERT MOORE, ITN REPORTER (voice-over): For the people of Sierra Leone, watching foreign nationals being plucked to safety from their midst. There is some anger they are being left to fend for themselves, reliant on a U.N. peacekeeping operation that is weak, demoralized and now plunged into crisis.

For U.N. commanders, this has become a logistical and political nightmare, up to 500 of their men lost behind rebel lines, some undoubtedly seized, others simply missing and unable to communicate. As a result, this under-resourced U.N. force has been largely confined to their compounds, and everywhere there is confusion over rebel intentions. Even the rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, who is meant to be the vice president under the peace accord, has now vanished. That disappearance followed the action of his bodyguards who opened fire on protesters besieging his house. That, in turn, raised more questions about the U.N.'s ability to provide security even here in the capital.

The top diplomat here denies that Britain is abandoning local people and worrying only about the evacuation of foreign nationals.

ALAN JONES, BRITISH HIGH COMMISSIONER: No, definitely not. It's certainly the intention that I remain in Sierra Leone and that the British diplomatic mission here remains open. We also have the British military forces here, and it's not their intention to leave in the short term. They will be here for a little while yet.

MOORE: But they will not, it seems, help establish a broader security. There is no talk of them trying to disarm rebels, which remains the essential task here. It all leaves the war-traumatized people of Sierra Leone with little hope of a peaceful future. Many here, even the very youngest, bear the horrifying scars of atrocities. Rebel forces have systematically amputated limbs as part of their campaign of terror, destroying lives and turning this potentially rich nation into a country that contains countless horrors.

(on camera): And there are hundreds, even thousands of others, all of whom have been grotesquely mutilated by the rebel forces. No wonder there is so much anger here amongst ordinary people at a U.N. peacekeeping operation that is proving unable to confront or even disarm those rebels who now threaten the country with still further violence.

(voice-over): It is too dangerous to travel outside of Freetown or towards rebel lines. As a result, there is confusion and fear. And everyone here recognizes this is a crisis that goes beyond Sierra Leone. It raises the question of whether the U.N. can retain any credibility as a peacekeeping force in Africa.

Robert Moore, ITN, Freetown.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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