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Ogata warns of refugee crisis in Guinea Bissau

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Ogata warns of refugee crisis in Guinea Bissau

22 June 1998

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata has appealed to regional heads of state to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Guinea Bissau, as fighting in the West African nation stretched into its third week.

"Already, many tens of thousands of men, women and children have fled the capital," Ogata said in a letter dated Friday 19 June to the presidents of Guinea Bissau, Senegal, and Guinea. She warned that the confrontation "could generate a major humanitarian crisis."

Ogata appealed to all parties to find "a peaceful and prompt settlement," addressing her call also to UN and OAU Secretaries-General Kofi Annan and Salim Ahmed Salim, the Economic Community of West African States and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The last international UNHCR staff member left the capital of Bissau on 16 June with remaining UN personnel aboard a Portuguese naval vessel. The majority of the city's residents have fled, and groups of civilians numbering into the tens of thousands are without food, drinking water or health care in the country's interior.

UNHCR has no news of the almost 5,000 refugees from Senegal who live in villages in the Cacheu region of northern Guinea Bissau. Reports indicate that fighting has also broken out in this region, where Jolmete refugee camp is located.

"Immediate consequences could be famine, refugee outflow into neighbouring countries and threats to the safety of the 5,000 Senegalese refugees who have been living in Guinea Bissau since 1992," the High Commissioner stated.

UNHCR staff in Dakar have registered several hundred refugees from Bissau who arrived in Senegal by boat. A mission conducted to the border regions in Senegal last week counted hundreds of people of other nationalities arriving in the Casamance area, itself the scene of regular military action by a separatist group, while Guinea (Conakry) already hosts over 500,000 refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia.

UNHCR emergency staff has deployed from Dakar to the border region of Ziguinchor, and from Conakry to the remote areas of Koundara, Kamsar and Gaoual.