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Missing UNHCR radio operator freed

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Missing UNHCR radio operator freed

22 January 2001

The missing UNHCR radio operator, Joseph Loua, was freed in Liberia on Monday, 47 days after he was abducted by gunmen from the town of Guéckédou in southern Guinea. Loua was located in Voinjama in Liberia's Lofa County by officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross who brought him back to Monrovia. ICRC workers described him as being in a good shape. UNHCR officials in Liberia and the Regional Director who travelled to Monrovia were trying to arrange for his speedy transfer to Guinea's capital, Conakry.

Loua, a father of five and a resident of Guéckédou, was reportedly taken from UNHCR's Guéckédou office on December 6th by unidentified gunmen, as he tried to send a radio message about an attack on the town. An eyewitness saw him being taken toward the Liberian border carrying what seemed to be radio equipment.

UNHCR subsequently pulled its staff out of Guéckédou and the surrounding area. Limited relief work has now resumed in areas north of Guéckédou but aid agencies continue to face huge security problems, trying to help hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced local people in Guinea's volatile south. UNHCR is particularly concerned about an estimated 250,000 people stuck without aid in a string of encampments in Guinea's "parrot's beak" area - a thumb of Guinean territory jutting into Sierra Leone.

Relief workers in Guinea have braved security odds since attacks in the south of the country intensified last summer. In September, a UNHCR worker was murdered and another abducted in the Guinean town of Macenta during an armed attack. The abducted woman was later released, also in Liberia.