More foreigners evacuated from Sierra Leone

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) — Guarded by U.S. Marines with armored vehicles and 25-mm cannons, 1,200 foreigners boarded helicopters Tuesday and fled this West African nation for the safety of an American warship.
It was the third Marine-led evacuation since mutinous soldiers overthrew Sierra Leone’s elected government May 25 in a bloody coup. Nigeria — which backs the deposed government — sent in new troops Tuesday and appeared poised for another assault. Scores of people died in fighting this week after Nigerian soldiers bombarded positions of the mutineers.
Three helicopters carrying Nigerian troops left neighboring Liberia to reinforce more than 1,500 of their countrymen whom the rebel army forced to retreat on Monday.
The Nigerian Defense Ministry said its move was backed by neighboring Guinea. Still, an Organization of African Unity meeting made no decision on whether to intervene in Sierra Leone, despite a plea from the government of ousted President Ahmed Tejan 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 Zimbabwe.
Nigerian state radio said Nigeria hoped no “full military operation” would be needed, but said its troops were “policing the coup leaders so as to flush them out.”
“When you are dealing with a madman in a china shop you do not ride roughshod over him so as not to wreck everything,” according to the radio report monitored by the BBC.
In Freetown, the streets were empty of residents, and sporadic fighting continued despite a cease-fire the Red Cross arranged to allow Tuesday’s evacuation from an area near the Cape Sierra Hotel.
Ann Wright, the U.S. charge d’affaires, watched as evacuees — including 30 Americans — boarded helicopters for the USS Kearsarge off shore. Since Friday, U.S. helicopters have ferried about 2,400 foreigners from the city to the warship. At least 10 people were carried to the helicopters on stretchers.
Wright said the area “has become a very dangerous place with a bunch of 13-year-olds around and out of control. … These are a bunch of thugs and lunatics having a free reign of terror with the army joining in.”
After Tuesday’s evacuation, and the 356 Marines returned to the Kearsarge, coup leader Maj. Johnny Paul Koroma traveled through the capital in a heavily armed motorcade.
Paulo Leizzair, owner of the Cape Sierra Hotel, said Koroma stopped there and told him “the trouble is over.”
White cloths signifying an appeal for peace flew from two sticks posted at the hotel entrance. Six armored vehicles mounted with machine guns and 25-mm cannons were deployed in the area where the evacuation was carried out. About 100 Marines stood guard.
The number of people killed Monday was unclear. Sierra Leone radio gave the figure at 80, but doctors at the Connaught Hospital in central Freetown, put the death toll at 21.
Britain’s military attache in the capital, Lt. Col. Andrew Gale, said the dead included two Nigerians killed at the Mammy Yoko Hotel. Many foreigners had been staying at the Mammy Yoko, and were able to make their way to the Cape Sierra during the overnight cease-fire.
“Literally, people slept everywhere, even on chairs,” said the Cape Sierra’s manager, Patrick Ghanem. “This morning I gave some of them soap and toothpaste to go and wash in the swimming pool.”
Among those fleeing was the Mammy Yoko’s American manager, Roger Crooks, who in the past two years converted the beachfront high-rise from a rundown dive into the capital’s premier hotel.