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CNN Today

Rebels Advance Toward Sierra Leone Capital

Aired May 10, 2000 - 2:28 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: Rebels in Sierra Leone reportedly are advancing now toward the nation's capital of Freetown. Truckloads of pro-government soldiers and militiamen are being moved into the city to defend against an expected attack.

Mark Austin of Britain's Independent Television News watches the preparations in Freetown.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARK AUSTIN, ITN REPORTER (voice-over): The onus of the airlift today was not so much taking frightened people out as bringing more troops in. A gun in one hand, water in the other. for the time being the biggest enemy of these men is the searing African heat.

British forces now effectively control a peninsula of land to the south of Freetown from where any evacuations take place. It's an area where everyone is disarmed, including Sierra Leone's troops and security forces. This truckload of police refused to hand over their weapons and were turned away.

Paratroopers are patrolling the shantytowns to try and build some confidence among a population living in terror of the rebels returning. Many people suffered in murderous attacks last year. This man lost half his family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They shot my children all dead. I barely survived with this. I was shot. The bullet went through there and came out there.

AUSTIN (on camera): And you'd like to see British troops stay her for some time, would you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would like them to stay here forever.

AUSTIN (voice-over): At the moment, though, their presence is limited to a tiny area outside the capital.

(on camera): But already there's talk of these paratroopers moving in to Freetown itself, an escalation of their role here that would expose them to greater danger and would worry critic who fear British forces are becoming sucked into a messy civil war.

(voice-over): Last night in Freetown, Nigerian troops serving with the U.N. were involved in a gun battle with rebels. Things are tense and volatile here, but all British trips can do is survey the scene from a distance, making sure their safe area is defended from possible rebel attack.

CPT. JAMES GLENCROSS, PARACHUTE REGIMENT: Well, we've got a whole company (UNINTELLIGIBLE). They have to send a pretty big force to take us out. And as you can see, the mortars are ready to fire. If they start firing, they haven't got a chance.

AUSTIN: Today, foreign nationals were still being flown out of Sierra Leone. Among those leaving, the wife of the British high commissioner here. And this afternoon, the mission of British forces has been extended, and RAF helicopters have now begun airlifting U.N. troops to vulnerable positions in and around the capital. The involvement here is a growing one.

Mark Austin, ITN, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: And we'll keep following developments on that story.

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