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Guinea: UN agency moves over 27,000 Sierra Leoneans to safer areas

Guinea: UN agency moves over 27,000 Sierra Leoneans to safer areas

Unloading food aid in Guinea
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has moved more than 27,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea from high-risk border camps to safer sites further inland, a spokesman for the organization said today in Geneva.

Speaking to the press, Kris Janowski said UNHCR's first relocation site in Kountaya was full, at 26,000 people, and convoys were bringing refugees to a new site in Boreah, where 1,500 people have been transported to date.

Some of the recently relocated refugees were evacuated from a camp in the northern part of the Parrot's Beak - a stretch of Guinean territory that juts into Sierra Leone. Others were picked up from a camp north of the town of Gueckedou, where thousands of refugees have gathered in the past weeks following fighting in the border region. Relocation also continues from a camp near Kissidougou, at Massakoundou, which has been used as a transit area for refugees going to Conakry, the capital of Guinea, to catch ferries to the Sierra Leonean capital of Freetown.

Because of overcrowding in the Conakry transit centre, which currently holds more than 3,000 people, UNHCR is setting up an additional centre north of the city, with a capacity of 1,000. The centre will be used for one-night stopovers before refugees arriving from camps in Guinea's forest region are taken to the port. In Sierra Leone, the agency is assisting with the continued arrival of both boat and spontaneous foot returnees from Guinea and Liberia.

In other news, the UN peace operation in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) said today that the women in the country had expressed "their deep yearning for peace" through a series of nationwide events held over the weekend. In Freetown, a march organized by UNAMSIL in collaboration with civil society organizations weaved through the streets of the capital, and culminated in a prayer rally of 1,500 women at the National Stadium.

Similar events were held around the country, in Bo, Moyamba, Kenema, Daru, Lunsar, and Tongo. In Bo, internally displaced women from the four camps in the area - most of whom are from Kono district, joined other women to march and hear a peace message. The President of the Women's Forum read out a statement calling on the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) to lay down their arms and join the peace process. As part of the ceremony, the women then dropped white handkerchiefs at the foot of UNAMSIL troops and officials.

Meanwhile about 100 UN peacekeepers conducted a long-range patrol to Tongo, where a member of a UN contact group met for the first time with the RUF brigade stationed there. The team from the UN peacekeeping mission (UNAMSIL) called on the rebels to cooperate with the operation's future deployment there and to join the disarmament programme.