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UN official visits Guinea, Sierra Leone to probe claims of refugee camp child abuse

UN official visits Guinea, Sierra Leone to probe claims of refugee camp child abuse

A senior United Nations refugee official looking into allegations of sexual exploitation by aid workers in West Africa wrapped up his visit to Guinea today, reporting wide support for ongoing relief efforts by humanitarian agencies in the country's refugee camps.

"I very much appreciated the goodwill and understanding of the government of Guinea and the international donor, NGO [non-governmental organization] and UN communities, as well as the honesty and outspokenness of the refugees I met," Kamel Morjane, Assistant High Commissioner of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), said before leaving Conakry.

"It has strengthened my belief that we can jointly move forward in dealing effectively with the problem of sexual exploitation in the region, and continuing the noble mission for which many people have dedicated their lives," he said.

Mr. Morjane travelled to West Africa on Tuesday following the public release last week of an alarming UNHCR-Save the Children UK survey alleging sexual exploitation by humanitarian workers. He is consulting with various authorities in the region and discussing with UNHCR's partners on the ground the report's content and follow-up actions, as well as getting a first-hand impression from the refugees themselves.

"With the specific consent of High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers, UNHCR's regional offices have been given carte blanche to carry out all necessary measures to minimize the dependence of refugees and their exposure to exploitation - of all kinds and by anyone," Kris Janowski, a spokesman for the agency said today in Geneva. "A joint plan of action involving all parties will be constantly updated."

The measures include increasing the presence of international staff, including females; expanding sensitization and awareness campaigns; joint workshops with the government and international community; and the development of a code of conduct for community workers.

After concluding his three-day visit to Guinea, Mr. Morjane headed today for Sierra Leone, another West African country named in the UNHCR/Save the Children survey.

Meanwhile in Sierra Leone, the Acting Force Commander of the UN Mission in the country (UNAMSIL) has ordered contingent commanders to caution their troops against conduct that could undermine the work of the Mission. In several meetings over the past week since the report's release, Maj. Gen. Martin L. Agwai has urged commanders to ensure their soldiers fully complied with the UN's code of conduct for peacekeepers.