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Update No. 97/02 on ICRC activities in Sierra Leone

10-06-1997 Operational Update

Following the coup of 25 May, political and military negotiations regarding possible solutions continued in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, and Abuja, Nigeria, between the authorities there and delegations of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) in control in Sierra Leone. Representatives from Gambia and Ghana were also involved in the talks in Nigeria.

In the meantime, the situation throughout the country remains chaotic, with no government offices and few schools open. Hospitals are functioning at only a very low level, if at all. No supplies are entering the capital, fuel is running short and there is no commercial traffic. Thousands are said to be leaving Freetown towards the north, Bo and Guinea. In addition to the problems of daily life (lack of supplies and medical care, risk of electricity failures and subsequent water supply problems), the population fears the possibility of renewed armed confrontation.

The ICRC has maintained and stepped up its contacts with all parties (those manning the checkpoints, commanders, AFRC representatives, special forces, RUF members, Liberians, Nigerians, Guineans and Kamajors) with a view to obtaining adequate security guarantees for its work.

On Tuesday, 3 June the ICRC addressed a memorandum on respect for international humanitarian law to the Executive Secretariat of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Abuja, Nigeria - to be forwarded to member states with troops in Sierra Leone - and to the Chief of Defence Staff in Lagos. The memorandum was also submitted to ECOMOG (the ECOWAS Monitoring group) in Monrovia.

 Medical activities: arrival of a surgical team  

The ICRC is following the case of the six wounded soldiers whom it evacuated from the Mammy Yoko hotel and subsequently visited on 3 June in a military hospital, along with six more who had made their own way there.

An ICRC surgical team, consisting of a surgeon, an anaesthetist and a theatre nurse, was brought in to Freetown on Thursday evening, 5 June by helicopter from Monrovia. The team started work immediately at the Netland hospital.

The ICRC's presence in Freetown throughout the events has enabled a minimal level of surgical care to be maintained and has had a definite impact on the morale and availability of local doctors. Medical supplies have been distributed to the Connaught, Netland and Wilberforce hospitals. On 5 June, as blood bank supplies were low, the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society (SLRCS) put out radio requests for voluntary donors, and provided blood to the Connaught hospital. To assist the minimal staff there, six SLRCS first-aiders were deployed, as well as four others at the Netland hospital. On 6 June the SLRCS and ICRC transferred two war wounded from the medical ward of an army training centre in Waterloo to Wilberforce hospital.

Since the water and sanitation situation in Freetown is likely to give cause for concern, as no refuse collection service has been in operation for ten days, the ICRC is to send an engineer next week to assess the situation.

In the Pujehun, Kailahun and Kenema districts, the ICRC has continued to support ten local clinics. In Kenema, however, staff in the government hospital more or less stopped working on 27 May, and the hospital remains closed. In the only other medical facility, the Nongowa clinic, the ICRC nurse, along with two local doctors, has been giving basic medical treatment and changing dressings for the patients. The SLRCS, supported by the ICRC, has opened a dispensary at the Nongowa clinic to provide basic care.

 Food and seed distributions  

Food from ICRC stocks was distributed on 6 and 7 June in Zimmi to vulnerable groups of people (pregnant women, nursing mothers, children and the elderly). In all, over 17 tonnes of oil, beans, corn meal, etc., were distributed to about 5,000 beneficiaries.

In addition, in Kenema, Segbwema and Zimmi, the ICRC is preparing to continue with the rice and groundnut seed distribution, to coincide with the onset of the rainy season, under its agricultural rehabilitation programme. It will start on 10 June in Zimmi.

In Freetown, the ICRC on 4 June gave bulgur, lentils and oil to the Connaught and Netland hospitals and to a feeding centre.

 Segbwema and Daru  

On 5 June the ICRC visited all the camps for the internally displaced to assess the humanitarian situation. In all, over 3,000 people are reported to have arrived recently. Food and other basic provisions are in short supply. In view of the events, the ICRC in Segbwema gave further assistance to a centre for unaccompanied children, even though the planned 12-week distributions for the centre had already been completed.

 Personnel  

Since 3 June the ICRC has increased its expatriate staff by the three members of the surgical team and a new medical coordinator. In all, 16 expatriates (three French, two Icelandic, one each from the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal, and eight Swiss) are based in Freetown (nine), Kenema (five) and Zimmi (two).