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Update No. 96/1 on ICRC activities in Sierra Leone

04-03-1996 Operational Update

 ICRC launches field operations in the east  

The ICRC has relaunched field operations in the Eastern province of Sierra Leone, the part of the country most affected by the conflict between the government and the RUF armed opposition. After more than two-and-a-half years of discussions with the government, the RUF and political leaders of countries in the region, the perseverance of the ICRC's regional delegation in Abidjan and sub-delegation in Freetown has borne fruit: the institution has been given security guarantees from the highest authorities of both parties to go ahead with a relief operation in the RUF-controlled Kailahun district, near the Guinean and Liberian borders. Relief operations have already been going on in Kailahun for several weeks and are due to start shortly in government-held towns.

A nutritional survey of civilians in the Kailahun area was carried out by the ICRC at the end of May 1995, revealing glaring nutritional deficiencies. People living in this war-torn region have been prevented from planting and harvesting their crops on a regular basis, and their food supply has dwindled steadily over the years. The ICRC is therefore distributing food to around 40,000 people .  

The ICRC's operation is being carried out from Guéckédou in the jungle region of Guinea, with the full cooperation of the Guinean authorities and the government of Sierra Leone.

 Expansion of operations  

Within the next few we eks the ICRC will be commencing food distributions in the besieged government-controlled town of Zimmi. In the next few days the ICRC will reopen its office in Kenema, where expatriate staff have been absent since early 1994, when the institution had to suspend field operations for security reasons.

Also in the pipeline is a nutritional survey in Daru and Segbwema, where the ICRC expects to carry out food distributions for some 200,000 residents and displaced people.

Besides its relief operations, the ICRC is stepping up its activities in other areas. For the country's first multiparty elections in 29   years, which were held on 26 and 27 February, the institution helped the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society set up first-aid teams close to polling stations, by providing expertise and material assistance.

As regards medical activities the ICRC will take over assistance to four health centres previously supported by the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society and will run one in Zimmi. Tracing work will also be developed, enabling families split up by the conflict to keep in touch. A Red Cross message network will be built up to that effect in governmental and RUF-controlled zones and in refugee camps in Guinea.

 ICRC facilitates first bilateral talks between government and RUF  

On 24 and 25 February the ICRC transported a delegation from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) to Abidjan in Côte d'Ivoire for the first bilateral meeting ever between the Sierra Leone government and the armed opposition movement. Acting as a neutral intermediary, the ICRC organized transportation for the RUF delegation to Kissidougou, Guinea, in a helicopter marked with the red cross emblem, from wh ere a plane marked with the red cross flew them on to Abidjan. The plane was also used to fly the government delegation back to Freetown.

The ICRC carried out this operation at the request of the warring parties, and in doing so received the full cooperation of the governments of Côte d'Ivoire and Guinea. The parties were attending preliminary peace talks to end the internal armed conflict which has affected Sierra Leone for the past five years.

 Personnel  

The ICRC's operation in Sierra Leone comes under its regional delegation in Abidjan. There are currently 18 expatriates and 60 locally hired staff working under this regional delegation. This figure includes eight expatriates in Abidjan, four in Freetown, one in Conakry, four in Guéckédou and one in Lomé. Staff numbers will be increased shortly, in line with the expansion of operations in Sierra Leone.