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COOK: WE WILL FIGHT BACK IF REBELS ATTACK.

BRITISH troops guarding the airport in Sierra Leone will go into battle if attacked by rebels, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said last night.

He added: "The rebels would be very wise not to attempt anything that posed any threat to our forces. If they are attacked, they will fight.

"I don't want any misunderstanding that these people cannot hit back and cannot hit back hard.""

But Mr Cook repeated that Britain was not committing our forces as combat troops with the UN mission. He said their mission was to safeguard the airport and make sure we can evacuate 200 Brits still in the country."

Meanwhile, two hundred members of 1st Para dug in alongside United Nations soldiers in the capital Freetown. An army spokesman said: "We hope we won't have to get into a fight but we are prepared if we have to."

RAF helicopters moved other UN troops into position as rebels advanced within 15 miles of the capital.

But Premier Tony Blair insisted the troops were sent to the former British colony to help evacuate civilians, not for combat.

About 350 British, EU and Commonwealth nationals have been flown out so far.

But other Western civilians are hanging back, hoping the rebels will not attack.
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Author:Dowdney, Mark
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 12, 2000
Words:207
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