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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Sierra Leone Rulers Look For Rebel Support

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone -- Sierra Leone's new military rulers said Monday they planned to bring rebels of the Revolutionary United Front into the government to consolidate an elusive peace in the country's civil war.

A spokesman for the new Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, AFRC, which toppled the civilian government Sunday, urged people to return to work.

In the capital Freetown, firefighters battled a blaze at the central bank caused by Sunday's fighting, which gutted the Treasury building. Fifteen bodies were taken to the hospital morgue.

An army major went on state radio Sunday night to declare himself the new head of state and called on Nigeria to release rebel RUF leader Foday Sankoh to join the new government.

Major Johnny Paul Koromah said he had overthrown President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah because his elected government had failed to consolidate peace and the situation had encouraged tribal conflict.

"At this moment, attempts are being made to work out modalities for the RUF to join us in order to ensure the peace that has eluded us for so long," AFRC spokesman Paul Thomas said in a radio broadcast Monday.

Sankoh has been held in Nigeria since March. His rebel movement has been fighting successive governments since 1991.

Sankoh on Monday declined to comment on the invitation.

"You have to watch the situation before you talk," Sankoh said

He said Sunday he was not surprised by the coup that toppled President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.

Shops and markets were closed Monday but hundreds of people came out to view the damage caused by Sunday's fighting around the presidential offices at State House, which were defended by Nigerian troops stationed in Sierra Leone under a regional defense pact.

The new leaders warned against foreign intervention in Sierra Leone's internal affairs.

One of the coup leaders' first decrees reflected army grievances against Kabbah: It abolishes a civilian militia on which he had come to rely.

The coup drew condemnation from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Organization of African Unity leader Salim Ahmed Salim. "The United Nations and the international community firmly uphold the principle that the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of governments, and that governments democratically elected shall not be overthrown by force," Annan said.

Land borders and air and sea ports were closed until further notice, and Freetown spent the night under a curfew imposed after looting of Lebanese-owned businesses, private homes, and UN offices and residences.