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First convoy reaches Guinea's "parrot's beak" region

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First convoy reaches Guinea's "parrot's beak" region

26 February 2001

KISSIDOUGOU, Guinea - The first humanitarian convoy since last autumn to deliver aid to tens of thousands of stranded refugees in the beleaguered Parrot's Beak region of south-western Guinea arrived in the town of Temessadou today (Monday).

The 11-truck convoy, organised by UNHCR and carrying 58 tons of food provided by the World Food Programme, arrived in Temessadou at 1:30 p.m. (1330 GMT) and immediately began off-loading its cargo under the supervision of aid workers from the non-governmental organisations Première Urgence of France and Germany's GTZ. The convoy, accompanied by Guinean military escorts, was subsequently scheduled to drop off some aid in warehouses in two other locations, before returning to UNHCR's regional base of Kissidougou. From now on, daily convoys are planned for the area.

Some of the Première Urgence staff accompanying the first convoy remained in the area to supervise the distribution of food scheduled to begin on Tuesday.

The Parrot's Beak region has been largely inaccessible to aid agencies since last September following repeated rebel attacks in the border area where Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia meet. One UNHCR staff member was killed and two others were abducted and later released during the fighting, which also resulted in the burning of UNHCR's office and destruction of equipment in the south-western town of Guéckédou.

UNHCR and WFP spent much of the past two weeks retrieving aid supplies from their warehouse in Guéckédou and have now stored it in Kissidougou. The items retrieved included some 1,600 metric tons of food.

Some non-governmental organisations have managed to reach the Parrot's Beak area over the past few weeks and reported exceptionally high malnutrition rates, especially among children.

Monday's first convoy follows a mission to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia two weeks ago by UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers, who enlisted the support of West African leaders for humanitarian access to and safe passage for refugees and displaced people in the volatile border area. Mr. Lubbers said he was extremely concerned about the fate of some 135,000 Sierra Leonean refugees stranded in south-west Guinea, as well as tens of thousands of displaced local residents. Once gaining regular humanitarian access, UNHCR hopes to voluntarily relocate the refugees further away from the border in central Guinea.

Two damaged bridges had to be repaired before convoys could begin. That work was completed last week.

There are scores of refugee settlements in the Parrot's Beak region. Monday's first deliveries will benefit some 3,000 people in Temessadou, Mongo and Kamayan. By the end of the week, aid agencies hope to have delivered a total of 425 metric tons of food for some 30,000 people, including displaced Guineans. Rations are sufficient for 2,100 kilo-calories per person per day for one month.

UNHCR urgently needs trucks to increase the frequency of food convoys and the number of target population reached everyday. With a fleet of 25 trucks, the whole Parrot's Beak region could receive food within a month.

Many of the refugees are believed to be too weak to walk out of the region for safety further north. The refugees also have reported that they are prevented from moving en masse by suspicious Guinean authorities and an often hostile local population that associates their presence with the upsurge in rebel attacks.