UNHCR welcomes Sierra Leonean cease-fire announcement
UNHCR welcomed the announcement this week of a cease-fire between government forces and Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone, where a military coup and wanton violence have driven more than 400,000 people into exile in the past two years.
The cease-fire is scheduled to take effect Monday, 24 May, and is to be followed by negotiations between the parties. UNHCR is cautiously hopeful that these will lead to a lasting peace.
The cease-fire accord also states that the warring parties will allow safe and unhindered access for humanitarian workers to everyone in need. Aid agencies have been unable to reach much of the country due to fighting, with entire areas cut off for over a year. Government-backed forces regained control of the capital, Freetown, in late January.
During the High Commissioner's trip to the region in February, she told Sierra Leonean President Kabbah that the ability for UNHCR and other agencies to monitor the situation throughout the country was essential to any eventual return of refugees.
The extent of the conflict was seen again this week with another rebel attack on a Guinean village near the border, the fourth this year in the Forécariah area, during which two civilians were killed. There are several Sierra Leonean refugee camps near Forécariah, and Guineans worry that the presence of refugees in their country has attracted the rebel incursions.
UNHCR and Guinean authorities agreed recently to move the 30,000 refugees from Forécariah camps to sites further from the border. A transfer of 50,000 Sierra Leoneans from vulnerable camps in the Guéckédou area, also the target of rebel cross-border attacks, began in April. Almost 9,000 people have been moved to date.
There are more than 100,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia and another 300,000 in Guinea.