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Troops capture most of Freetown; junta leaders flee

A Nigerian-led intervention force has captured almost all of Freetown from the country's military junta, sending its leaders fleeing, the force's commander said Friday.

The junta appeared to no longer be functioning, Maj. Gen. Timothy Shelpidi said from his headquarters in Monrovia, Liberia, though some junta officials may still be commanding troops."The ball is in their court. They have not approached us," Shelpidi said. "They have not indicated at all, `We are surrendering.' "

The whereabouts of the military ruler, Lt. Col. Johnny Paul Koroma, were unknown, he said.

The intervention force, known as Ecomog, launched an attack last week trying to unseat the junta and return the country's elected president, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, to power. Koroma ousted Kabbah in a bloody coup in May.

Thursday night, as Ecomog troops captured large parts of the center of the city, civilians reportedly celebrated in the streets.

But the fighting has devastated many parts of Freetown, with artillery shells landing in densely populated civilian neighborhoods, overwhelming what little medical facilities have been able to keep functioning.

International aid workers have been warning of a humanitarian crisis if food and medical attention does not quickly reach hundreds of thousands of people who have been trapped in Freetown between the warring forces.