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UN gravely concerned over fighting, Guinea-Bissau

UN humanitarian official ‘gravely concerned’ over fighting in Guinea-Bissau

The United Nation’s top humanitarian official, expressing “grave concern” for 5,500 civilians who have fled recent clashes in northern Guinea-Bissau between Senegalese rebels and the Guinean army, today called upon the parties to cease their hostilities.

“Separated from their homes and livelihoods, those who have fled are vulnerable and risk being subjected to undue influence to return to their homes,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland said.

“It is unacceptable that the rights of the displaced, including their right to voluntary movement and return, be ignored,” he added.

Of added concern is the confirmation that anti-tank and anti-personnel landmines have been planted within area of conflict between the Guinean forces and a faction of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), a separatist group demanding independence or autonomy from Senegal.

Three thousand of the displaced persons have stayed within Guinea-Bissau’s borders and an additional 2,500 people have sought refuge across the border in Senegal.

Responding to a request from the Government of Guinea-Bissau, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been distributing food to those who have fled, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has handed out essential drugs and clean drinking water.

“All parties must refrain from any action that could bring further harm to the civilian population,” concluded Mr. Egeland, adding, “There must be respect for the protection of civilians in accordance with humanitarian principle.

One of the 10 poorest countries in the world, Guinea-Bissau was devastated by a bitter civil war in the late 1990s in which thousands were killed, wounded or forced from their homes. Many people there continue to rely almost entirely on foreign aid to survive.

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