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Nurses released by Liberian rebels

Briefing notes

Nurses released by Liberian rebels

3 September 2002

After weeks of negotiations, UNHCR yesterday secured the release of five NGO nurses abducted by Liberian rebels on June 20. They were handed over to UNHCR staff late yesterday afternoon at the Liberia-Guinea border and are now safe in the southern Guinea town of Nzérékoré.

Following confirmation from the rebels, a UNHCR delegation from our office in Nzérékoré travelled yesterday under tight police escort to the Badiaro border, in Guinea's southern Macenta Prefecture. The five nurses were handed over at 3:30 p.m local time by two representatives of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel group.

UNHCR officials involved in the release said the five nurses were visibly traumatized by their 10-week ordeal and three were suffering from malaria. They were taken to Macenta for a police check and then to Nzérékoré where they received medical care. They spent the night in a hotel, from where they were able to call their families. They will remain in Nzérékoré for a couple of days before their transfer to Conakry.

Their release comes after weeks of negotiations and was immediately welcomed by High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers. UNHCR is grateful to local Guinean authorities for their assistance in providing security during yesterday's release.

The nurses had been abducted during a June 20 attack by LURD rebels on Sinje refugee camp, 80 km north-west of Monrovia. The attack forced some 24,000 Sierra Leonean refugees and displaced Liberians to flee the camp, which was looted and destroyed. Some moved towards the Sierra Leonean border, while others fled to Monrovia.

At the time, the Liberian nurses were working in the camp for local NGO, MERCI (Medical Emergency Relief Cooperative International), providing medical care to refugees and displaced in a UNHCR-sponsored clinic. The LURD rebels took the nurses and a UNHCR ambulance. The five nurses were believed kept by the rebels in northern Liberia's Lofa County.