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Negotiators near deal to end Sierra Leone coup

June 1, 1997
Web posted at: 1:13 p.m. EDT (1313 GMT)

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (CNN) -- Negotiators are within days of reaching a final deal to end the week-long coup in Sierra Leone, the country's ambassador to the United States told CNN Sunday. The deal would probably give some of the coup leaders safe passage out of Sierra Leone.

"The deal is 95 percent advanced, we're just about to cross the t's and dot the i's," said Ambassador John Leigh. "It looks like these people will shortly put down their coup, leave the country, and the president and parliament of Sierra Leone will be reinstituted under the constitution."

Sierra Leonean Ambassador John Leigh
On the coup leaders and the rebels...
(247 K / 22 sec. audio)
On international involvement...
(264 K / 23 sec. audio)

Negotiations began Saturday at the military headquarters in Freetown, as military sources reported that a contingent of Guinean troops had entered Sierra Leone to join the Nigerian-led regional force gearing up to reverse the week-old coup by junior officers in Freetown.

Some observers had suggested the situation could be complicated by the fact that the coup had been largely hijacked by a group of Sierra Leone rebels, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which has waged an armed campaign against the government since 1991.

Reports said the RUF was opposed to any negotiations. And a radio address issued by the RUF said the group had brought 5,000 men from its long-running bush war and would fight any intervention force to the end.

But Leigh said the RUF would not pose a serious problem. About 75 percent of the capital was already under the control of 3,000 west African peacekeeping troops there, and Nigeria, Ghana and Guinea were sending more troops in by the hour, he said.


"The coup leaders are surrounded, the rebels are young boys, some of them are as young as 7 years of age, they have antiquated equipment, they are emaciated, and they are only a few hundred.

"The rest of the people who look like rebels are in fact hooligans who have joined them. They are not really seasoned fighters," he said. "They have not slept for four or five nights, they are totally bewildered and cornered, they are going to step down."

He said his contacts said Sierra Leone President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, who fled to neighboring Guinea after the coup, would be back in the country in a couple of days.

U.S. resumes evacuations


Meanwhile, U.S. Marines returned to Sierra Leone Sunday to evacuate more Westerners. Four CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters landed at a Freetown hotel in which hundreds of people have sought the protection of Nigerian troops.

The evacuation is similar to Friday's operation but employed a "more robust force," according to Capt. Greg Ertel of the USS Kearsarge, to which evacuees were being ferried by helicopter.

Marines airlifted some 900 U.S. and other citizens Friday, including all Americans who sought to leave.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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