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Sierra Leone: grave concern about fate of civilians

Briefing notes

Sierra Leone: grave concern about fate of civilians

15 January 1999

The High Commissioner last night expressed grave concern about the fate of civilians trapped for many days now in Sierra Leone fighting, without food and drinking water. She said a lasting ceasefire is a must to allow some normalization to enable aid to reach those in need.

On Tuesday, in a letter to President Kabbah, as well as to heads of states and organizations attempting to mediate the crisis, the High Commissioner warned of a repeat of the situation we saw last year when some 250,000 Sierra Leoneans fled to neighbouring countries. Of particular concern to the Office are 8,000 Liberian refugees still in the country and 14,000 recent returnees to Freetown.

UNHCR yesterday re-established radio contact with several local staff members in the ECOMOG controlled part of capital and the town of Kenema, some 300 km south-east of Freetown. Staff in Freetown reported that the fighting had been traumatic and families' food stocks were almost exhausted. They said electricity was still cut off but that intermittent water supply had been restored to parts of the capital. The situation in Kenema, which is also under ECOMOG control, was less tense than in previous days and the flow of displaced people to the city had stopped.

567 Sierra Leonean refugees have arrived in Conakry and Forécariah (Guinea) since the fighting began in Freetown. Another 27 persons arrived by boat in Ghana three days ago.