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Update No. 99/04 on ICRC activities in Sierra Leone

02-12-1999 Operational Update

 General Situation  

Following an 8-year civil war, a peace agreement was signed in July between the Government of Sierra Leone and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in the Togolese capital of Lomé and became known as the Lomé Peace Accord. The terms of the agreement provided for a general amnesty and called for an end to the armed conflict. All combatants were to be disarmed, demobilized and eventually integrated into the government's armed forces or into the society. All detainees were to be released and humanitarian organizations granted unlimited access to all parts of the country.

Through resolution 1270 of 22 October, the UN Security Council decided to create the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), a 6,000-strong force, to serve an initial six-month term. Its mandate, inter alia, is to assist the Sierra Leonean government in the disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation of ex-combatants, overseeing the ceasefire agreement, supporting the activities of UN workers including those monitoring human rights, and easing the way for humanitarian assistance. An important component of UNAMSIL's mandate is to ensure the freedom and protection of civilians threatened by physical violence, while acknowledging the responsibility of the Sierra Leonean government and ECOMOG in this area.

In October RUF leader Foday Sankoh flew home to help implement the Accord. He now advocates prompt disarmament and demobilization of RUF forces. For his part, Johnny Paul Koroma, leader of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), also returned to Sierra Leone in October and started to press for th e disarmament and demobilization of AFRC forces. However, the disarmament process has come to a virtual standstill and there are recurrent skirmishes between RUF and AFRC forces.

    

 Humanitarian situation  

The Lomé Accord raised hopes within the humanitarian community that it would have unhindered access to civilians throughout Sierra Leone, but there is no guarantee of access to all civilians in spite of numerous exploratory missions and contacts with various authorities. This is particularly true in Kono, Koinadugu, and Kailahun and in other parts of the eastern and north-eastern parts of the country. Insecurity still persists in northern and eastern Sierra Leone. In August, UN officials were abducted and a humanitarian convoy going upcountry was hijacked. These and other incidents have caused concern.

    

 ICRC activities in Sierra Leone  

Notwithstanding the slow implementation of the Lomé Accord and insecurity in the northern and eastern regions, the ICRC has been able to assist conflict victims and the civilian population by:

- reviving the Red Cross message network, in cooperation with the Sierra Leone Red Cross, thereby enabling many of the hundreds of thousands of people displaced within Sierra Leone or who have sought refuge in other countries to re-establish or maintain contact with members of their families; offering demobilized combatants and released children who had been abducted the opportunity to use the Red Cross message network with a view to easing their reintegration;

- providing some 37,000 internally displaced pe ople and other war victims with material assistance ( including blankets, mats, kitchen sets, jerrycans and soap);

- providing 8,440 displaced and vulnerable families with basic material for shelter;

- providing material assistance to some 1,300 liberated detainees;

- distributing agricultural inputs, in conjunction with the Sierra Leone Red Cross, to help more than 36,000 displaced and vulnerable resident families regain self-sufficiency; the assistance included 27,000 bundles of cassava sticks, 27,000 bundles of sweet potato vines, 90 tonnes of groundnut seed, some 36,000 vegetable kits and approximately 36,000 swamp hoes;

- providing material assistance through the Ministry of Health and local NGOs to vulnerable people, mainly in hospitals, orphanages and homes for the handicapped;

- supporting the Princess Christian Maternity Hospital and four clinics in Freetown through repairs and the weekly provision of drugs and medical supplies;

- commencing construction of an operating theatre, physiotherapy, outpatient consultation, kitchen and laundry facilities at the Kenema Hospital and transforming the present kitchen into a 40-bed surgical ward; providing a medical team consisting of a surgeon, an anaesthetist and two specialized nurses mainly to perform corrective and reconstructive surgery - an average of 15 surgical operations are now performed weekly;

- continuing to organize workshops, in cooperation with the Sierra Leone Red Cross, on a dissemination/information action plan for armed forces and other bearers of weapons, the National Society's staff and volunteers, schools and local authorities;

- continuing to support the Sierra Leone Red Cross, whose assets were substantially reduced during the war, in its emergency preparedness.

 Future objectives  

Given the organization's four-month absence and the slow implementation of the Lomé Accord, the ICRC has been compelled to reevaluate its objectives for the future. They are to: 

- involve the Sierra Leone Red Cross in ICRC-coordinated efforts to help the population, including assisting unaccompanied children to re-establish family links ;  

- obtain access to places of detention and ensure that all detainees are held in adequate material and psychological conditions ;  

- provide agricultural inputs to vulnerable families in rural areas to restart the subsistence farming cycle, and supply fishing equipment in coastal areas; provide material assistance to help in the resettlement of displaced families; ensure that the vulnerable and the resident population have access to adequate sanitation and safe water;

- rehabilitate and/or assist primary health care clinics in Freetown, Kenema and Kailahun districts; support the Princess Christian Maternity Hospital in Freetown in order to reduce maternal and perinatal mortality, by supplying the hospital with drugs, medical and surgical materials, and helping set up one ward with 20 beds, an operating theatre and a labour ward; facilitate the emergency treatment of life-threatening conditions during pregnancy and childbirth and offer free medical and surgical care for displaced and destitute people;

- support the hospital in Kenema, and maintain an ICRC surgical team in order to treat most of the wounded requiring corrective and/or reconstructive surgery; ensure that training for resident surgical staff enables them to provide effective surgical care independently; also ensure that th e Ministry of Health's surgical staff in remote areas have access to training in the treatment and care of war injuries;

- organize proper training in humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict for all ranks of Sierra Leone's future army; raise the awareness of the authorities and officials of the various national committees established within the purview of the peace agreement of their obligations under international humanitarian law;

- in cooperation with the Sierra Leone Red Cross, operate tracing, dissemination and emergency preparedness activities throughout the country; gain the acceptance and support of the population through an effective countrywide dissemination programme.

 Number of expatriates  

The original plan of action for 1999 called for 35 expatriates in Sierra Leone. However, this year's events reduced the effective need for delegates to 15   by the end of November.