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Sierra Leone on Edge After Military Coup

May 27, 1997| From Associated Press

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — Mutinous troops patrolled deserted streets, prompting terrified residents to refuse orders to return to work Monday after soldiers seized power and ousted the elected president.

Sunday's coup--the third in five years--unseated President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, whose election in February 1996 ended five years of military rule. At least 15 people died and 40 were injured in the military takeover, which ravaged the capital with fighting, looting and arson.

Some of Kabbah's ministers also fled the country, and news media in neighboring Guinea said Sunday that Kabbah had taken refuge there.

Leading the uprising was Maj. Johnny Paul Koroma, who said Kabbah's government failed to deliver the peace promised by an accord with rebels that ended the West African nation's five-year civil war in November.

Sierra Leone's civil war killed at least 10,000 people and left nearly a third of its 4.5 million people homeless. In a radio broadcast Sunday, Koroma said he had invited Foday Sankoh, the leader of the Revolutionary United Front that waged the civil war, to join his government--an apparent gesture at reconciliation.

Sankoh is being held in a Nigerian jail on arms smuggling charges, and Koroma appealed to that country to release him.

In Washington, the White House said the United States was ready to evacuate Americans if necessary.

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