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Morocco / Western Sahara: ICRC medical team visits Moroccan prisoners held by the Polisario Front

25-03-1999 News Release 99/12

Between 6 and 20 March an ICRC team made up of a doctor, an ophthalmologist and a dentist visited a large number of the 1,877 Moroccan prisoners held by the Polisario Front in the Tindouf area of Algeria. The main purpose of the visit was to assess the men's state of health and the availability of medical care for them in the region. As delays regarding the UN settlement plan and uncertainty surrounding its implementation have held up the prisoners'repatriation, the ICRC is trying to find ways of providing these men, most of whom have been held for close to 20 years, with more specialized care on the spot.

During the visit the ICRC eye specialist examined 135 prisoners and performed 44operations. The dentist discussed needs with the two dental nurses, who are prisoners themselves, and the doctor gave 170 consultations. She found that many of the prisoners needed special tests and treatment that could only be given in a properly equipped hospital.

In addition to the equipment needed to perform eye surgery, the medical team brought a supply of insulin. They noted that the aid sent from Geneva in February this year had arrived safely. It consisted of soap and other hygiene items, blankets and basic medicines for the Moroccan prisoners and Sahrawi refugees.

The ICRC delegates paid particular attention to the 83 men freed in April 1997 and still awaiting repatriation to Morocco. Two of the men released at the time have since died.

All the individuals visited were given the opportunity to send Red Cross messages and photos to their families.

The ICRC remains deeply concerned about the situation of the se men, most of whom were captured between 1978 and 1982. It trusts that some solution can be found to all the problems of a humanitarian nature still outstanding in connection with the Western Sahara conflict, and stands ready to supervise the repatriation of all prisoners.