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Guinea-Bissau: Alarming humanitarian situation

18-06-1998 News Release 98/24

On 13 June, six days after a military rebellion broke out in Guinea-Bissau, an ICRC delegate and a delegate from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies arrived in the country's capital, Bissau.

The hostilities between government troops and rebel soldiers, involving the use of heavy weapons in urban areas, have already claimed a number of civilian victims and led to the shelling of the capital's main hospital. The delegates have begun to evaluate the needs in the city's various hospitals and have distributed medical supplies to those that are receiving the wounded. Volunteers from the Red Cross Society of Guinea-Bissau are evacuating the wounded and burying the dead.

The delegates are also assessing the immediate needs of tens of thousands of displaced people who have fled to the south-western part of the capital to escape the fighting. Relief teams of National Society volunteers have been set up to distribute drinking water and, for the most vulnerable, rehydration salts. However, a large number of displaced people in the north-eastern part of the capital, across the front line, are without anything and cannot be reached owing to the fierce fighting.

The ICRC calls on all the parties involved to abide by the rules of international humanitarian law, in particular to distinguish between civilians and combatants and to protect and respect persons who are not or are no longer taking part in the hostilities. It also emphasizes that it is prohibited to carry out indiscriminate attacks endangering the civilian population, to use civilians as human shields and to terrorize the population. Anyone no longer taking part in the hos tilities, such as wounded or sick combatants, must be collected and cared for, and those captures must be treated humanely. 

The ICRC's role in this situation is to organize and coordinate the activities of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in aid of the victims.