Shootout Spurs Panic in Sierra Leone
Apr. 28, 2000
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) _ Troops from a West African intervention force clashed with renegade soldiers Friday, killing one rebel in a shootout that sent residents running for cover in war-ravaged Sierra Leone's capital.
The firefight in Freetown erupted when six armed Nigerians from the intervention force known as ECOMOG went to retrieve a truck that had been commandeered by soldiers from the country's ousted junta.
Both groups opened fire, leaving a former junta commander injured and his bodyguard dead, witnesses said. Destroyed vehicles littered the street.
The gunfire sent bystanders fleeing. Businesses shut down, and the streets emptied except for ex-junta fighters who roamed the capital.
Ex-junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma appealed for calm on state-run radio, urging his followers to leave the streets as U. N. peacekeepers strengthened checkpoints and took up positions in front of key buildings.
``We are carrying out checks on a random basis for smuggled weapons which we will confiscate,'' U.N. commander Maj. Gen. Vijay Kumar Jetley said.
The Nigerian-led intervention force was the government's main backer during eight years of civil war but has scaled down its role since a peace accord was signed in July.
In response, the U.N. force is expected to be increased from the current 8,500 to 11,500 soldiers by July. But many Sierra Leoneans have expressed skepticism that the U.N. troops can enforce the fragile peace.
Although authorized to use force if necessary, the U.N. peacekeepers _ mainly Indians, Kenyans and Nigerians _ have avoided confronting the former Revolutionary United Front rebels and their allies from Koroma's ex-junta.
U.N. peacekeeping contingents have themselves been robbed by rebels, who killed tens of thousands of civilians and intentionally maimed many more during the war.
So far, 23,490 of an estimated 45,000 pro-government militia and rebel fighters have been disarmed under the July peace accord, according to U.N. figures. Yet tens of thousands of rebels have refused to give up their guns, U.N. officials say.