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UNHCR worker released in Liberia

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UNHCR worker released in Liberia

28 September 2000

Liberian officials today handed over to Ivorian authorities a UNHCR staff member reportedly captured by gunmen during an attack in Guinea two weeks ago and later rescued by Liberian troops after walking for five days.

Sapeau Laurence Djeya, 37, an Ivorian national, was to be flown to Abidjan from the Liberian capital, Monrovia, where she was presented to the Ivorian consul, UN officials and local reporters at noon. Djeya's feet were swollen and she was to be taken to a UN clinic before being flown to the capital of Côte d'Ivoire.

"I am enormously relieved and very grateful to all those who contributed to bring Laurence to safety," said High Commissioner Sadako Ogata at UNHCR's headquarters in Geneva.

The Liberian information minister said "Guinean dissidents" captured Djeya on September 17 at the Guinean town of Macenta during an attack in which the military garrison was burned and the head of UNHCR office Mensah Kpognon was killed. Since then, UNHCR officials have been working around the clock to bring her back.

The minister said Djeya walked for five days until she was rescued by Liberian troops who took her to Monrovia. There were no other details available. Djeya was unable to give an account of her 11-day ordeal immediately.

Kpognon's slaying and Ms. Djeya's abduction came just 11 days after the vicious murder by East Timorese militia of three UNHCR staff at Atambua town in the Indonesian province of West Timor.

The murders in Timor and Guinea have caused widespread outrage among UNHCR staff and throughout the entire aid community. Kpognon was the 15th UN staff to die this year. Since January 1992, 19 UNHCR staff have died in line of duty - the vast majority in shootings, bombings and ethnic violence.

UNHCR pulled all its staff from West Timor and recalled all its field personnel in Guinea from field locations to the capital, Conakry. Guinea hosts more than 460,000 refugees - 330,000 Sierra Leoneans and 130,000 Liberians - along border regions that have been the recent scene of violent clashes in which scores of people have been killed.

There are still an estimated 100,000 East Timorese in West Timor - part of the 250,000 people who fled the eastern half of the island in the violent aftermath of last year's vote for independence.