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Liberia: HC secures President's endorsement

Briefing notes

Liberia: HC secures President's endorsement

16 February 2001

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers has received the crucial endorsement of Liberian President Charles Taylor for UNHCR's efforts to provide safe access and passage for tens of thousands of West African refugees. President Taylor has now joined his counterparts in Guinea and Sierra Leone in endorsing the absolute priority for safe access to and safe passage for refugees.

Lubbers, on the third stop of a five-nation African mission, met with President Taylor on Thursday afternoon to seek his support in making the plight of refugees in the tri-state border region of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia an urgent priority. UNHCR is particularly concerned about some 150,000 to 200,000 refugees and displaced now trapped in the so-called Parrots Beak region of south-west Guinea, near the Liberian and Sierra Leonean border.

A joint UNHCR-Liberian press statement said President Taylor and Lubbers agreed on three major principles to help alleviate the refugee crisis in the border region. This includes safe access to and safe passage for refugees, as well as condemnation of "any acts that would obstruct or hinder these principles."

"President Taylor agrees on the absolute priority of safe access to and safe passage for refugees, as well as condemning strongly all acts that hinder or hamper safe passage or access," Lubbers said. The High Commissioner said strong condemnation by regional leaders of such acts could have a major influence on various factions operating in the border area, build trust in the region and help convince the international community to contribute to the development of the strife-torn west African states.

In addition, President Taylor offered to open the Liberian border region to refugees currently trapped in the Parrots Beak region of Guinea. The High Commissioner thanked him for the offer, but said UNHCR prefers first to provide humanitarian access and safe passage within Guinea itself.

Lubbers said he did not seek President Taylor's assistance as a go-between with Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Lubbers said UNHCR prefers to deal directly with the RUF through an already-established UNAMSIL (United Nations Assistance Mission in Sierra Leone) contact group. UNHCR has received indications from RUF that it is prepared to discuss safe access and passage for the region's refugees as well.

UNHCR hopes the contact with RUF can be made as soon as possible.

These discussions will include the possibility of a border opening between Forécariah, Guinea, through the Kambia region of Sierra Leone. UNHCR will also insist on the RUF declaring that they will refrain from all actions on Guinean territory.