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Guinea: Ban Ki-moon appeals for calm as looters plunder UN food

Guinea: Ban Ki-moon appeals for calm as looters plunder UN food

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on the Government and the labour leaders in Guinea to step back from the worsening political and security situation in the country, which has been shaken by a month of strikes and deadly clashes and the looting of UN food supplies urgently needed for children.

In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban reaffirmed the readiness of the UN to work closely with all segments of the society, and with Guinea’s other partners, to help end the current crisis and restore sustainable stability and development.

“The Secretary-General regrets the failure to implement the agreement reached on 27 January, which has triggered the resumption of the crisis and threatens to plunge the country into generalized instability,” the statement said. “He calls on the Government and the labour leaders to resume dialogue and implement, in good faith, the agreement reached last month.”

The Secretary-General again strongly urged the Government and the security forces “to exercise maximum restraint and to scrupulously uphold the rule of law and respect for human rights” while urging the labour leaders “to refrain from inciting violence and the destruction of property,” the statement added.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today condemned the reported killing of civilians over the last three days and called on the Government to adhere strictly to its human rights obligations, a day after it announced the imposition of a state of emergency.

“Guinea’s security forces must abide by international standards on the use of force,” she said. “The killings and violence since January, during which over 40 civilians are said to have died in clashes with security forces, demand an impartial investigation, as there are serious allegations of gross breaches of those standards.”

Voicing grave concern at the imposition of a state of emergency which grants expanded powers to the military, she recalled that fundamental human rights cannot be curtailed even in a state of emergency. She urged authorities to adhere strictly by their human rights obligations during this period, which she hoped would be as short as possible.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) reported that looters stole nearly 450 metric tons of food aid destined for school children and the poorest communities in the impoverished West African country over the weekend.

“This food was for the poorest of the poor in Guinea; it has been mindlessly plundered by people who have no respect for the property of others,” WFP Country Director Philippe Guyon LeBuffy said, stressing that the food was meant for children enrolled in the agency’s school feeding programme and people suffering from HIV/AIDS.

“At this point, it’s hard to know when we will next be able to provide schools and other institutions with the food aid they rely on for their programmes. We understand there is widespread frustration and anger in the country, but actions such as these will only make the lives of the poorest even worse,” he added.

WFP estimated the value of the losses at $350,000. During violent disturbances in the eastern city of Kankan on Sunday, a WFP warehouse was stripped bare, and a total of 350 tons of rice, yellow split peas and cooking oil was stolen by marauding local inhabitants. Other items such as cooking pots, plates and spoons were also looted. The office was attacked by a mob throwing stones, forcing the evacuation of the only international staff across the border into Mali.

In further disturbances, again involving local inhabitants, in the Labé area of central Guinea, a further 97 metric tons of food commodities were looted from two warehouses belonging to WFP government partners in Pita and Dalaba.

Each year, over 200,000 children in Guinea receive school meals on a regular basis. The looted food was also intended for food-for-work projects, nutrition programmes for young children and their mothers and support to people suffering from HIV/AIDS.

There are now no remaining food stocks in Kankan. Some 500 metric tons for operations around Labé are still intact as are food aid stocks for WFP refugee operation in the Forest Region of Guinea.