Guinea: fresh fighting drives out humanitarian workers
Fresh fighting in southern Guinea has driven humanitarian workers out of the area, dashing hopes for a speedy aid delivery to an estimated quarter million refugees and local residents in the country's volatile "parrot's beak" region - a thumb of Guinean territory jutting into Sierra Leone.
The unrest prompted UNHCR this morning to reduce its staff working in the regional base in Kissidougou. The 25 staff were taken to Conakry. The remaining 45 UNHCR staff in Kissidougou continue to provide assistance wherever possible. Food distribution is scheduled to start today (Tuesday) in Massakoundou, some 10 km south-west of Kissidougou. The camp's population has sharply increased from 20,000 to some 35,000 over the past few weeks, following a series of attacks in regions of Guinea bordering on Sierra Leone and Liberia.
UNHCR is also going ahead with the preparation of new camp sites to house refugees fleeing from the border area. The two sites under construction can hold up to 40,000 people.
An estimated 180,000 refugees and 70,000 displaced Guineans in the parrot's beak area have been without aid since early December when fighting erupted in the Guéckédou area, effectively cutting off the fragile border zone. During a brief visit to Guéckédou on Monday, UNHCR workers found the town almost entirely deserted amid heavy military presence. Last weekend, 1,000 refugees fleeing the latest bout of fighting flooded into the nearby Nyaedou camp. The group included two young males who suffered gunshot wounds while working in their fields.
UNHCR still has no information regarding the fate of its Guéckédou-based radio operator, Joseph Cece Loua, who was last seen when rebels attacked the town and destroyed UNHCR's office south-west Guinea on 6 December 2000.