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Sierra Leone: Grave concern about civilians in Freetown

11-01-1999 News Release 99/01

ICRC (Geneva) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is deeply concerned about the continuing plight of the civilian population in many parts of Freetown.

Incessant fire from both light and heavy weapons in the crowded capital and the destruction of civilian property and essential infrastructure are giving rise to serious fears for the safety of the inhabitants. In some areas of the city people are finding it difficult to leave their homes in order to gather food, assist the wounded or simply bury the dead. A continued power and communication blackout is further aggravating the situation.

The ICRC also deplores the misuse of the red cross emblem, as marked vehicles taken by force from both the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society and the ICRC are currently being driven around the capital.

The ICRC calls on all the parties involved to abide by the rules of international humanitarian law, and in particular to make a clear distinction between combatants and civilians and spare persons who are not or are no longer taking part in the hostilities. The ICRC urges all those bearing weapons to respect the men and women displaying the protective red cross emblem, to allow them to carry out the necessary surveys and to give unimpeded passage to urgently needed humanitarian assistance.

The ICRC has five expatriates and some 200 national staff in Freetown. More than 180 people have sought refuge within the delegation compound over the past few days, and 126 patients are receiving medical care at the Netland surgical hospital and rehabilitation centre. An office in Kenema manned by national personnel is continuing to provide medical assi stance for the war-wounded and is building additional sanitary facilities for newly displaced persons in the area. National Society volunteers gave first aid to the wounded throughout the capital until 6January, when fighting brought humanitarian activities in the city to a halt. Emergency assistance will resume as soon as the situation allows.