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British army hostages 'safe' in Sierra Leone

Graphic
Sierra Leone: conflicting claims on where British troops were captured  

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (CNN) -- Negotiators resumed face-to-face talks on Wednesday with the rebel group holding 11 British soldiers hostage in Sierra Leone.

Few details have been given but it has been revealed officials were able to see one of the captives.

"There has been direct contact between one of the negotiators and one of the soldiers being held. We have been able to ascertain that all the soldiers are alive and well and in good spirits," British military spokesman Lt. Cdr. Tony Cramp told CNN.com.

British army officials earlier admitted the kidnapped soldiers could have been deep inside territory held by the so-called West Side Boys militia when they were captured on Friday.

  MESSAGE BOARD
Crisis in Sierra Leone
 

The comments followed claims by the commander of the U.N. peacekeeping force in the West African state that the soldiers, from the Royal Irish Regiment, had not informed the U.N. of their intention to travel in the area where they were kidnapped.

Nigerian General Mohammed Garba denied a statement by Britain that the men were captured while driving back to Freetown after meeting Jordanian peacekeepers near the town of Masiaka, around 75km (47 miles) to the east of the capital.

British military officials in Freetown played down any argument between U.N. and British army commanders on Wednesday.

"The General stated that he believed the soldiers may have been seized in rebel territory and we are not disputing that," said Cramp.

"The fact is that we don't know and we won't know until we have had a chance to speak to the men themselves after their release. That is our priority."

British and U.N. officials are working together, he said, to try to bring the hostage crisis to a speedy and successful conclusion.

The first face-to-face talks between the hostages and the West Side Boys took place on Tuesday. One of the group's leaders, who is known as Brigadier Kalla, was present.

Relatives of the rebel group have said they will travel to the West Side Boys' bush stronghold to try to persuade the renegade troops to hand over their hostages.

The West Side Boys are soldiers from the former Sierra Leone army who claim loyalty to the military junta which ruled the country in 1997-8.

They have become known for their brutality and ill-discipline, and in recent weeks have broken away from the Sierra Leone army.

The rebel demands remain unclear although some reports suggest they are calling for one of their leaders, known as Bomb Blast, to be freed from prison.

The members of the Royal Irish Regiment are among some 400 British troops in the West African state to train the new Sierra Leone army.



RELATED STORIES:
Negotiators meet Sierra Leone hostage
August 29, 2000
Key events in Sierra Leone's history
August 29, 2000
Hopes still high for release of British soldiers in Sierra Leone
August 28, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Sierra Leone on the Web
UNHCR Country Profile: Sierra Leone
British Ministry of Defence
UN Mission in Sierra Leone


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