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African leaders give go-ahead to military intervention in Sierra Leone

June 3, 1997

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) _ African leaders gave their backing Tuesday to military intervention to dislodge the leaders of a military coup in the west African nation of Sierra Leone.

The 53-nation Organization of African Unity gave approval for a Nigerian-led military alliance to ``take appropriate action″ to restore constitutional rule in the country.

It was the first time a summit official spoke out on the west African military alliance that bombarded the Sierra Leone capital, Freetown, on Monday in an effort to dislodge the coup leaders.

It was unclear how many people died in the fighting, but mutinous soldiers, backed by rebel forces, were firmly in control of the capital Tuesday, nine days after overthrowing Sierra Leone’s elected government.

OAU ministers and more than 30 presidents and prime ministers meeting for a three-day annual summit also unanimously have refused to recognize the ruling council of coup leader Maj. Johnny Paul Koroma, OAU chief spokesman Ibrahim Dagash said.

In a closed session on Tuesday, the African leaders discussed sanctions and other actions against those who unseated democratically elected President Ahmed Tajeh Kabbah.

``We have no alternative but to remove those dogs from our capital,″ James Jonah, Sierra Leone’s ambassador to the United Nations, told the gathering in Harare.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan of Ghana also indicated Tuesday there was general African acceptance of the military intervention.

``I would hope that it would be possible to avoid bloodshed. ... I hope the coup leaders will listen to reason,″ Annan said.

Dagash said it was up to Sierra Leone’s neighbors to decide the nature of the intervention.

Earlier Tuesday, the leaders held an inaugural meeting of the African Economic Community, a continent-wide, free-trade zone that has been under discussion for many years.

Leaders have given themselves 20 years to create an umbrella trade region that would replace regional economic groupings and enable Africa to compete effectively with other trading blocs, such as those in Asia and Europe.

``We in Africa will not rise until we stop quarreling and fighting,″ said President Daniel arap Moi of Kenya.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa says 262 million Africans live on less than $1 a day, 200 million have no access to health services and 274 million don’t have safe water to drink.

Officials said new Congolese leader Laurent Kabila, on his first trip out of the country since taking power, would likely be asked to guarantee the safety of Rwandan refugees and provide access for humanitarian agencies.

Kabila told the official Zimbabwe news agency earlier Tuesday that his immediate task was to boost development by using local resources. During the reign of corrupt dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, whom Kabila’s forces ousted, there was no meaningful development in the country, formerly known as Zaire.

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