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Nigerians launch attack on Sierra Leone mutineers

June 2, 1997
Web posted at: 11:28 a.m. EDT (1528 GMT)

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (CNN) -- Heavy shelling from Nigerian gunboats rocked Sierra Leone's capital Monday morning in an apparent attempt to drive out coup leaders who took over the country on May 25.

Talks between the military coup leaders and Nigerian and British diplomats broke down Sunday night. West African nations, led by the Nigerians, had been trying to persuade coup leader Maj. Johnny Paul Koroma to turn the country back over to now-exiled President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah.

Nigeria, Ghana and Guinea have been amassing troops in Freetown since the coup, signaling their willingness to use force if Kabbah -- elected in 1996 to replace another military government -- is not returned to power.

A Nigerian commander said his troops took over the international airport north of the city Monday morning after a short firefight with Sierra Leone troops. The Lungi airport had been under joint control since the coup but will now be used to bring in reinforcements, the commander said.

Clashes also took place at the coup's seafront headquarters and a nearby hotel where about 1,000 people from other West African countries fled during the coup. Six Nigerians guarding the hotel were reported wounded in an attack.

child in Marine's arms

Aided by U.S. troops, hundreds of people have been evacuated from the hotel's heliport during the last few days.

Thousands of Freetown residents took to the streets Monday protesting the Nigerians' intervention, but said they also did not support the coup. Many have ignored the coup leaders' order to return to work.

On Sunday, Koroma named his 20-member ruling council, including rebel leader Foday Sankoh as vice chairman. Sources said that Sankoh's group opposed a settlement, and may have been partly responsible for the breakdown of talks Sunday.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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