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Sierra Leone: ICRC pulls out of Freetown

14-01-1999 News Release 99/02

ICRC (Geneva) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was asked yesterday by a member of the Sierra Leonean Government to leave Freetown for security reasons. Following this request, an ICRC-chartered helicopter was sent from Conakry to pick up the five remaining expatriate staff, who arrived in the Guinean capital yesterday evening.

The ICRC regrets this development because it obliges its delegates to leave Freetown at a time when the humanitarian situation is still giving cause for the gravest concern, most civilians being trapped in their homes by the incessant fighting. Although prevented by the security conditions from carrying out their humanitarian tasks, the delegates represented a reassuring presence for more than 180 civilians who had sought shelter and assistance in the ICRC compound and for the wounded being treated in the ICRC's Netland surgical hospital.

The authorities concerned have been informed that the ICRC stands ready to resume its humanitarian activities for the victims of the conflict as soon as it is authorized to do so.

The ICRC continues to call 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 to respect persons who are not or are no longer taking part in the hostilities.