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Lubbers explains proposal for humanitarian access to refugees in Guinea

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Lubbers explains proposal for humanitarian access to refugees in Guinea

14 February 2001

Freetown, Sierra Leone - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, met for a second consecutive day Wednesday with Sierra Leonean officials and refugees, explaining his proposal for humanitarian access in the region.

Lubbers said UNHCR is receiving indications that Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) may be willing to consider UNHCR's call for a humanitarian corridor, possibly a safe return route from Forécariah in south-western Guinea to the Kambia area of Sierra Leone.

"We will have to confirm this but it would be a positive development," said Lubbers, who arrived on Tuesday in Freetown on the second leg of a five-nation tour of West Africa.

"We would also urge the RUF to apply the principle of humanitarian safety as broadly as possible, especially in the tri-state area where Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia meet. This is UNHCR's most urgent priority because we have an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 refugees and internally displaced trapped by fighting in the so-called Parrot's Beak region of south-west Guinea. Humanitarian agencies need access to these people and the refugees need to be relocated to a safer area," he added.

Lubbers said he is enlisting the support of governments and other parties such as the RUF, who have influence in the region, to help UNHCR open a humanitarian passage or lifeline from the Parrot's Beak north into central Guinea.

The High Commissioner said this will allow agencies to get food and other aid into the area from stockpiles in Guinea and also enable refugees to move to the safety of UNHCR camps in the Faranah region of central Guinea. There, the refugees can decide if they wish to return to Sierra Leone. One eventual route of return by land could be from Forécariah through the Kambia region of Sierra Leone.

"I have so far been able to enlist the support of the presidents of Guinea and Sierra Leone for establishment of humanitarian passage and possible safe return routes," Lubbers said. "But this will also need the cooperation of others, including the RUF and Liberia, where I will travel tomorrow (Thursday)," he added.

Lubbers on Saturday flew to Guinea, where he visited refugee camps and held talks with Guinean President Lansana Conté. Guinea hosts 300,000 refugees from Sierra Leone and 150,000 from Liberia.