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Published: Sunday March 9, 2014 MYT 11:00:02 PM
Updated: Sunday March 9, 2014 MYT 11:01:02 PM

Safety concerns ground Sierra Leone international flights

FREETOWN (Reuters) - International airlines have cancelled flights to and from Sierra Leone after a U.N. aviation regulator discovered that the only functioning fire engine at its main airport had broken down, an airport official and airline staff said on Sunday.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) downgraded Freetown airport after it made the discovery during a spot check, they said.

The top two international carriers to the West African country - British Airways and Kenya Airways - cancelled flights indefinitely from Saturday as a result, leaving more than 100 passengers stranded.

"We are working very hard to fix the faulty gearbox system of the fire engine and to add to the fleet," general manager of the Sierra Leone Airports Authority, John Sesay, told Reuters.

The ICAO could not immediately be reached for comment.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited the West African country this week to oversee the closure of its peacekeeping mission there following an 11-year civil war that ended in 2002.

Its tourism industry is only slowly recovering, but thousands of foreign workers are employed in Sierra Leone in the gold and diamond mining sectors.

(Reporting by Umaru Fofana; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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