UN peacekeepers captured a strategic town from rebels in Sierra Leone, the force commander said Tuesday, after a rebel attack drove government troops from the town, reported The Associated Press.
Gen. Vijay Jetley was quoted as saying that Jordanian and Indian peacekeeping troops, known as UNAMSIL, moved into the town of Masiaka Tuesday afternoon following a series of rebel attacks prompted government troops to pull out of the town overnight.
It was unclear how much fighting occurred and whether there were any UN casualties, said the agency.
Government officials had earlier denied the rebel Revolutionary United Front had captured the town. Masiaka lies on a key road junction 45 miles from the capital on the edge of a horseshoe shaped government cordon around the city.
Government officials were not immediately available to comment on the UN takeover, the AP added.
"Masiaka is now under UNAMSIL control," Jetley said. "The situation is still fluid. We are clearing out the RUF. We are in considerable strength."
The UN advance marked the first time the UN peacekeeping force has used its offensive capabilities to capture territory in Sierra Leone.
The rebels abandoned a peace accord in May when they seized 500 UN hostages and began advancing toward Freetown.
The hostages have since been released, but a fragile alliance of pro-government forces has lost momentum after initially driving the rebels further from the capital.
On Friday, a group of rebels ambushed a unit of Jordanian UN peacekeepers on their way from Masiaka, killing one and injuring four others. The peacekeepers returned fire, killing 11 bodies which were identified as rebel fighters.
Revolutionary United Front rebels killed tens of thousands of civilians and systematically maimed many more during the West African country's eight-year civil war.
The United Nations has vowed to give more muscle to its peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone, the world's largest at nearly 13,000 troops, and says it will no longer tolerate attacks on its forces.
Yet more than 200 UN armed peacekeepers and unarmed observers remain surrounded in a UN compound in the rebel stronghold of Kailahun, about 200 miles east of Freetown, according to the agency – Albawaba.com
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