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Update No. 96/3 on ICRC activities in Sierra Leone

05-12-1996 Operational Update

Sierra Leone's President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh signed a peace accord on 30 November in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, ending more than five years of civil war in Sierra Leone. The agreement called for the immediate cessation of hostilities, the demobilization and disarmament of the RUF and its integration into the national army. Both parties and the mediators, the government of Côte d'Ivoire, stressed that the agreement provided the framework for peace, but that strong leadership and considerable efforts would have to be forthcoming to ensure that it lasted. A cease-fire has been in effect since early 1996. However, the situation on the ground is complicated by the presence of mercenaries employed by the government and, recently, by the involvement of militias composed of " Kamajors " , or traditional hunters, who officially support the government in providing protection to towns and villages but have been involved in clashes with army troops.

The ICRC welcomes the signing as a major step forward in the peace process, and hopes that the accord will be implemented successfully. The institution, through the regional delegation in Abidjan, has played a significant role as neutral intermediary in the negotiations this year by transporting the RUF leader and delegation out of Sierra Leone under the protection of the red cross emblem. It has also provided transport for the government delegation. Most recently, the institution flew Mr Sankoh to Sierra Leone to talk to his commanders in the bush, and brought him back to Abidjan for the signing ceremony.

During the five-year conflict in Sierra Leone nearly 40 percent of the country's population were forced to flee their homes. Hundreds of thousands of people left for Guinea and Liberia, but the majority sought refuge in camps for the displaced inside Sierra Leone. At the end of 1995, more than one million were scattered throughout camps in Freetown, Bo, Kenema, Segbwema and Daru. Following the cease-fire early this year, some of the displaced started to return to their homes, and the upsurge of violence in Liberia in April prompted the return of several thousand who found shelter in provisional camps. In Zimmi alone the population trebled to 18,000 between April and June. The ICRC's priority is to enable these people to return home and resume normal life. The mainstay of the food supply is rural subsistence farming and cash cropping, and one of the ICRC's main goals is to help rebuild and stabilize this supply. Since February, the ICRC has been running a major relief operation along the border area with Liberia, and has reopened or set up offices and logistics bases in Kenema, Segbwema, Zimmi and Guéckédou (Guinea).

 The ICRC's relief and health programmes: looking towards the future  

 Promoting self-sufficiency  

The agricultural assistance programme helps people returning to their homes to prepare their land for future crops, thus enabling food production to be restored and encouraging self-reliance. Food distributions, which can result in long-term dependency, will eventually be phased out.

Most recently, 1,260 tonnes of corn and soya blend, cornmeal and vegetable oil were distributed to nearly 160,000 civilians. Under the seed programme, 213 tonnes of rice and groundnut seed were distributed in September and October to nearly 75,000 people, along with hoes for 4,650 families. In addition, in October, military operations led to an influx of internally displaced people to Blama and Kenema, and the ICRC handed out blankets, clothing and cooking pots to 655 people.

In 1997 the ICRC will set up emergency buffer stocks sufficient for 20,000 people in case of a major influx of returnees or refugees, and will carry on providing 160,000 people with seed and agricultural tools. Food distributions (from World Food Programme stocks) will continue until the October 1997 harvest. At the same time, nutritional surveys will be carried out to determine needs and monitor the impact of food distributions.

 Health  

The ICRC will build up its existing primary health care (PHC) programme to provide up to 28 clinics and health posts in Daru, Kailahun, Pujehun and Zimmi with supplies, supervision and training. It will also improve the supply of safe drinking water and waste disposal in these areas.

The institution's vaccination campaigns have been particularly successful: by the end of September, in the RUF-controlled Pujehun area, 3,500 out of a population of 5,560 had been vaccinated against yellow fever, 67 percent of under-fives had received inoculations against potentially life-threatening childhood diseases and 95 per cent of pregnant women had been vaccinated against tetanus. These campaigns will be kept up in 1997.

The ICRC intends to develop evacuations of serious medical cases from isolated government or RUF zones to referral facilities in Sierra Leone or Guinea.

 Other activities  

The ICRC has extended its detention-related activities in government-controlled areas from Freetown to Daru, Bo and Kenema. It will seek especially to expand its protection activit ies for civilians in RUF-held areas, initially by stepping up Red Cross message services. Accompanying dissemination activities will prove vital in ensuring the safety of ICRC personnel and continuation of their action.

Cooperation with the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society has yielded very encouraging results, especially in terms of the emergency preparedness programme. The ICRC will provide the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society with the material and technical support needed to run existing first-aid teams and posts and to set up several more.