Guinea: authorities agree to release detainees
Authorities in Guinea have agreed to release all foreigners who have been in detention since Saturday, on condition that they first be screened by UNHCR and local officials. Between 800 and 1,000 persons were released on Monday and more should be freed today. People who have been in Guinea for a long time and are in possession of Guinean papers will be able to go home. Others will be taken to a UNHCR-run camp where they will receive food and other assistance.
The High Commissioner is sending her regional director, based in Abidjan, to Conakry to deliver a special message to the Guinean authorities in which she is urging them to continue to provide protection to the refugees, the vast majority of whom are women and children. She is also asking all refugees to refrain from any criminal and political acts and respect the country's laws.
There have been unconfirmed reports of abuse against foreigners while in detention, including alleged cases of rape. UNHCR is condemning any violence against refugees and calling upon both the government and the population to respect the rights of refugees.
Police in Conakry had arrested at least 3,000 foreigners over the weekend, following a series of violent attacks by Liberian and Sierra Leonean rebels on Guinean villages. The Guinean authorities say the violence left at least 80 civilians dead. Guinea's President Lansana Conté denounced the violence and accused foreigners of aiding the attackers. Conakry's civilian population subsequently turned against the foreigners and violent attacks were reported, including allegations of arson. The situation calmed down after the foreigners were rounded up and detained.
There are some 330,000 refugees from Sierra Leone and 125,000 from Liberia in Guinea. Amongst them are at least 15,000 victims of atrocities committed by rebels in their own country, and 5,000 unaccompanied minors.