4291st Meeting (PM)
UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES ASKS SECURITY COUNCIL
TO STRENGTHEN MISSION IN SIERRA LEONE
Says More Troops and Revised Mandate Are Keys to Country’s Future
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees asked the Security Council this afternoon -- in the name of the refugees -- to strengthen the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), by providing it with more troops and a revised mandate, saying such strengthening was the key to enabling refugees to return and the key to the country’s future.
The road from Forecariah, Guinea, to Kambiah in Sierra Leone must be made safe, the High Commissioner, Ruud Lubbers, told the Council, as members heard his briefing on the refugee situation in West Africa. That was necessary for the success of his efforts to protect those refugees and improve their situation. When the road was safe, it would serve as a safe passage for those who wished to return to Sierra Leone.
The Government of Guinea had indicated it would provide security on the Guinea side of the border, he added. However, the Sierra Leone side was controlled by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). He had received indications that the RUF might leave the territory if UNAMSIL would replace it. The UNAMSIL, however, was currently too weak to do that.
The representative of the United States said that while the immediate need to protect refugees should be at the forefront of the Council’s decision-making concerns, his country did not support the creation of safe corridors or safe passage through rebel territory. The risks to refugees’ lives were too great and the RUF was not trustworthy. The United States also opposed rapid large-scale repatriation of refugees to Sierra Leone at this time, as security conditions were unacceptable, the humanitarian network was strained, and 90 per cent of the refugees came from areas still under RUF control.
The representative of the United Kingdom was among many speakers who expressed doubts about the trustworthiness of the RUF. What was required, he said, was a short-term emergency plan that would actually be able to achieve what the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) needed to do. A safe passage would require three to four full battalions to protect refugees from rebel harassment. One must make a reasonable choice between the long term and the short term. The goodwill of the RUF could not be relied upon. A deterrent was needed to give the rebel group and its backers the incentive to do the right thing.
Colombia's representative said that although it was well known that the conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone over the past decade were behind the present humanitarian crisis, it could not be solved by limiting action to the humanitarian field. The Council must seek political and security solutions. It was clear that many Sierra Leone refugees were willing to risk returning home, rather than face intimidation and threats of violence by rebel groups. The crisis had come full circle to its origins. The violence and poverty were being shifted from one country to another.
Mali’s representative fully supported suggestions for guaranteeing safe passage by setting up safe corridors. The first priority, he said, was to achieve an agreement on the basic principles of safe access and passage between the Governments of Guinea and Sierra Leone and the RUF, as well as UNAMSIL. The Council must show the necessary political will to re-establish peace and security in that region.
Guinea's representative said his country had welcomed as many as 800,000 refugees over the past years. The sole cause of the situation in south-east Guinea was the armed attacks of rebel groups, with the support of the Government of Liberia. The international community should ensure that a country like Guinea did not have to pay such a high price. He called upon the international community to enhance aid to his country to help it bear the burden of caring for the refugees.
Sierra Leone's representative said that the ability of thousands of his compatriots to return home was linked with the level of hostilities along the borders of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. A related issue was the capacity of the Sierra Leone Government to accept those returnees. The country was already overwhelmed by the large number of returnees and thousands of internally displaced persons. The situation was complex, but concerted efforts were needed on the part of all concerned, including those who were waging aggression and banditry within and across the three countries.
Also speaking this afternoon were the representatives of Jamaica, Tunisia, France, China, Singapore, Norway, Mauritius, Bangladesh, Ireland and Ukraine.
The meeting began at 3:49 p.m. and adjourned at 6:18 p.m.
The Security Council met this afternoon to hear a briefing on the refugee situation in West Africa from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, RUUD LUBBERS, commenced his briefing by paying tribute, on International Women’s Day, to refugee women, who had to rebuild their lives, sometimes more than once, and empower themselves and their children. On behalf of refugee women, he had claimed, in his visit to West Africa earlier this year, the rights of free access for refugees and of safe passage for them.
Since then, cooperation with the authorities and army of Guinea had improved. He would distribute a printed update on the refugee situation to Council members, he said. It showed there were a number of improvements -– including better access to refugees and development of new sites for refugee camps. Those improvements were thanks to Guinea. The Languette area, where many refugees were gathered, was very isolated, but in the last two weeks food had been delivered, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had been able to help people who needed to get out.
He then turned to the situation in Sierra Leone since his last statement, on 21 February. With Sierra Leonean President Kabbah's concurrence, he said, the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and the UNHCR had been in communication with the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) about principles of safe access and passage. As part of his action plan, which had been confidential at the time of his last report, he had invited the RUF to endorse principles that had already been approved by the three regional Governments -- Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. Those were the provision of safe access to refugees, the provision of safe passage for refugees, and the condemnation of any act that hindered the exercise of the first two. Assuming that it would agree, he had also asked the RUF to refrain from taking any action in the territory of Guinea. As of today, those principles seemed to be in effect.
He had also signalled to the RUF that, as soon as they made a public statement adopting those principles as formal policy, he would invite the Guinea Government to commit to refraining from all military actions on the road to Kambiah, so that road could become a safe passage for the return of Sierra Leonean refugees.
The adoption of this first part of his action plan was crucial for refugees in Guinea, and especially for their travel to and from Languette, he said. By and large, the principles were being respected by the three countries and the RUF.
Efforts to convince the RUF to refrain from action on the territory of Guinea seemed, at least until now, to have been successful, he said. That had positive effects on the situation in Guinea and also on the working relationship between UNAMSIL and the RUF. They marked a real beginning for the successful implementation of the UNAMSIL mandate, as set out in Council resolution 1270 (1999). In addition to the importance for refugees themselves, safe access to, and safe passage for, refugees played an important function as a confidence- building mechanism, and created new windows of opportunity. That success notwithstanding, he said that it must not be forgotten that Sierra Leone was still fragile and vulnerable, and that everything must proceed cautiously and step by step.
The next step, he continued, was to do what was needed to make the Kambiah road safe, so it could serve as a passage of return, for those who wished, to Sierra Leone. He had received indications that the Government and the army of Guinea were prepared to provide security on the road up to the Guinea border. The Sierra Leone side of the border was controlled by the RUF, but he had indications that the RUF might be prepared to leave the territory if it could be placed under the control of UNAMSIL. However, UNAMSIL was too weak at present to fulfil that function. It could only control that territory if it was strengthened.
The only responsible way to free the route from Forecariah to Kambiah was to do it in such a way as to ensure that the territory was no longer under RUF control, and that meant it could only be done when UNAMSIL could move into the territory in sufficient strength, he said. He, therefore, asked the Security Council to strengthen UNAMSIL, by providing it with more troops and with a revised mandate. He asked this on behalf of refugees, he said. That strengthening of UNAMSIL was the key to enabling those refugees who wanted to return to Sierra Leone, and it was also the key to the future of Sierra Leone.
If UNAMSIL was strengthened so it could control the Kambiah area, a number of refugees would be able to return, he said, but only a limited number. However, it would be sufficient to reduce the burden that internally displaced people put on Freetown and would reduce the burden on Guinea caused by the presence of so many refugees. But, he stressed, refugees who wanted to return to Kambiah could only do so if UNAMSIL was in control.
All of that must be checked and rechecked before the course was pursued, he admitted. However, strengthening UNAMSIL was the first priority. Once strengthened, UNAMSIL could then look into the real situation, check it, and when it was safe enough do so, UNAMSIL could do its job. He also noted that there was a real need for provision of assistance to fight poverty all throughout Sierra Leone. The time had come to prioritize humanitarian needs. Prudence was required, of course, but so too was action.
Since his last report on 21 February, sanctions had been imposed on Liberia, he said. In addition, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) initiative he had mentioned in February had not materialized. He had mentioned his discussions and suggestions about the deployment of an ECOWAS military capacity in Liberia from its border with Guinea and Sierra Leone to Zorzor. That particular suggestion came about because he understood an ECOWAS deployment would not be acceptable to Guinea, but that President Taylor of Liberia had indicated he might accept such a deployment. A force concentrated on that part of the border would produce circumstances that would allow for a more coherent approach to the refugee situation. However, the ECOWAS deployment had not materialized. He noted that there were still 100,000 Liberian refugees in Guinea waiting to return home.
The UNHCR accepted that refugees had a free choice to go home when they wanted to, he said. If the situation was stable enough for them to want to go, then safe passage for that return was needed. The UNHCR had strengthened its presence in the region. It was now providing a great deal of assistance, and that assistance was costing a great deal of money. He would be asking donor countries to provide an additional $20 million to $30 million, to allow it to continue its activities. Although the UNHCR could try to make their situation better, the practical choices about return were up to refugees themselves
On his mission to West Africa, he had met with leaders of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and with the Chairman of ECOWAS, he said. He had stressed, in discussions with the leaders of the three countries, that after 10 years of misery it was time for them to prioritize an end to violence.
His message to the Council was more practical, he explained. He asked the Council to make it possible for those countries to meet that priority. It was essential that they received help from the Security Council. And that meant, most especially, an increase in the role and capacity of UNAMSIL.
M. PATRICIA DURRANT (Jamaica) said that the flow of refugees across the borders of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia had fuelled the worst refugee crisis in the world. Indiscriminate attacks on civilians, as well as the looting, disruption and burning of their property, had prevented the delivery of emergency relief food.
The situation must be seen in two phases, she said. The first must be the emergency phase, which was the most important part of the High Commissioner’s mandate. The second phase was finding a long-term solution. Regarding the emergency phase, it was a cause for concern that the High Commissioner intended to relocate refugees while fighting was continuing, thus putting them at risk. Within what time frame did the High Commissioner expect to relocate the refugees? she asked. Time was essential. Without speedy action, the refugees would become just so many more statistics.
Regarding a long-term solution, she expressed concern at the Council’s inability to expand UNAMSIL. The RUF had expressed its willingness to cooperate in ensuring safe repatriation for the refugees. However, it would be necessary to establish reception facilities and other assistance for the refugees before they could be reintegrated into their communities. They could not return to areas dominated by the RUF.
Sir JEREMY GREENSTOCK (United Kingdom) said he was not sure it would be practicable to place trust in the RUF, or to strengthen UNAMSIL. What was required was a short-term emergency plan that would actually be able to achieve what the UNHCR needed to do.
He said one could not hold out the prospect of safe passage, as if that passage would be safe immediately. It would require three to four full battalions to secure safe passage corridors one kilometre wide in order to protect refugees from rebel harassment. One must make a reasonable choice between the long term and the short term. The goodwill of the RUF could not be relied upon. A deterrent was needed to give the rebel group and its backers the incentive to do the right thing.
He said the region must be an important part of any repatriation plan for refugees. The United Kingdom would be consulting regional governments on that matter to find out what ECOWAS could do. The United Kingdom had contributed an extra $12 million since last December to support refugees and internally displaced persons.
OTHMAN JERANDI (Tunisia) said he was deeply concerned by the situations affecting millions of refugees and displaced in the region. The resumption of fighting in certain areas could prompt an accelerating movement of local populations to safer areas. He was pleased by commitments of the three presidents to guarantee access to and safety of passage for refugees. However, it was the first step in a long process. As a practical matter, the authorities and mechanisms that ensured protection had to be determined, and non-State players in the region had to fully cooperate. Also, the authorities who would be in charge of supervising the initiative would have to be determined.
The objective could only be attained with the swift and tangible support of the international community, he continued. The inter-agency mission in West Africa would define the key needs and the impact of the refugees in Guinea, as well as accurately determine the most pressing logistical needs to speed up the resettlement process. The refugee crisis could not be resolved without dealing with the root causes of the conflict. He had always advocated a multi-dimensional approach for peace-building, in that regard. Repatriation and resettlement would be more successful if it was part of an effort to revitalize the economy, he said.
JEAN-DAVID LEVITTE (France) said the problem of refugees was not only a humanitarian challenge in West Africa; it had also become a political problem. He had some questions and doubts about RUF cooperation, as well as the cooperation of other movements in the region. Concerning the possibility of organizing a massive voluntary return of perhaps 100,000 Liberians -- how many could return safely? he asked.
Regarding the role of UNAMSIL, he agreed with the representative of the United Kingdom that, since the established numbers were insufficient, UNAMSIL should concentrate on the mandate given. In a second stage, it could take on other tasks. The possibility of ECOWAS establishing a safe corridor was uncertain and concrete terms had to be established, which would take time. Focusing, therefore, on the immediate emergencies, he agreed that voluntary returns could not be very numerous. As a result, it was a duty to help Guinea resettle the larger number of refugees on its territory. The initial duty was to provide more means to Guinea and the UNHCR to continue Guinea’s policy of generous welcome.
JAMES CUNNINGHAM (United States) said his country had made $3.5 million in emergency funds available to the UNHCR to support the relocation of refugees from camps along the border to safer sites further north in Guinea. An additional $1.25 million had been given to the World Food Programme (WFP) to feed victims of the conflict. That was on top of the $54 million that the United States had already contributed to UNHCR’s Global Appeal for Africa.
He said the only way to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Guinea was by assisting in the evacuation of non-combatants, including refugees, from areas of conflict or potential conflict. The immediate need for protection and relief should be at the forefront of the Council’s decision-making concerning the well-being of refugees and internally displaced persons.
Stressing that his country did not support the creation of safe corridors or safe passage through rebel territory, he said the risks to refugees’ lives were too great and the RUF was not trustworthy. The United States also opposed rapid large-scale repatriation of refugees to Sierra Leone at this time. Security conditions were unacceptable, the humanitarian network was strained, and 90 per cent of the refugees came from areas still under RUF control.
He said the Security Council would soon consider an extension of Nasal’s mandate and possible augmentation of its force structure. As the Government of Sierra Leone, with Nasal’s assistance, began to expand its control over more of the country, an increasing number of refugees would be able to return to a safe and secure environment.
ALFONSO VALDIVIESO (Colombia) said it was well known that the conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone over the past decade were behind the present humanitarian crisis in the region. But the crisis could not be solved by limiting action to the humanitarian field. The Council must seek political and security solutions.
He said it was clear that many Sierra Leone refugees were willing to risk returning home rather than face intimidation and threats of violence by rebel groups. The crisis had come full circle to its origins. The violence and poverty were being shifted from one country to another.
The Sierra Leone Government must be strengthened to help it to take care of the refugees and to provide education, health and other services, he said. Failing to strengthen the Government would be sowing the seeds of the next cycle of crises. The adoption of the resolution on Liberia yesterday had sent a very clear signal of the Council’s determination.
He asked how the UNHCR intended to help refugees to return to their own countries. How much longer could relief operations go on before donor fatigue and declining contributions set in? What had been the RUF’s attitude to the arrival of the refugees? Did it view them as a pool for future recruitment?
MOCTAR OUANE (Mali) said ECOWAS has worked tirelessly for a search for a political settlement. The twenty-fourth conference of heads of States in Bamako in December 2000 had adopted measures aimed at making the borders between Mano River Union countries -– Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia -- safe and restoring trust between the three countries. A multinational force along the borders of the three countries was to be deployed, on the one hand, and the three Governments would prevent armed individuals from using their territories to prepare acts of aggression against neighbouring countries. The ECOWAS would convene an extraordinary summit about the situation in the region.
He fully supported suggestions for guaranteeing safe passage by setting up safe corridors. The first priority was to achieve an agreement on the basic principles of safe access and passage between the Governments of Guinea and Sierra Leone and the RUF, as well as UNAMSIL. He asked for more information about UNHCR’s strategy towards the RUF. He supported the assessment that the international community should treat West Africa as a matter of urgent attention. The Council must show the necessary political will to reestablish peace and security in that region. He also asked whether the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had plans for projects to assist refugees and internally displaced persons.
SHEN GUOFANG (China) praised the High Commissioner's efforts to seek safe access to the refugees and safe passage, as well as his initiative in attempting to reach agreement with the RUF. It was more encouraging that the RUF had promised to cooperate, although China had some doubts as to whether it would keep its word.
Much work and cooperation were needed to succeed in repatriating the refugees, he said. The efforts of the UNHCR and certain countries were not enough. The international community must contribute to the Global Appeal for Africa. China had provided humanitarian assistance to Guinea and Sierra Leone through bilateral channels.
He agreed with the High Commissioner that UNAMSIL should be strengthened. The humanitarian issue was closely connected with the peace and stability of the entire region. The impasse in the Sierra Leone peace process was the major cause of the crisis. The situation was in a crucial moment and the Council’s efforts must not slacken. The role of ECOWAS was also very important.
KISHORE MAHBUBANI (Singapore) said he was concerned about the deteriorating security in the region and its impact on the situation of the refugees and internally displaced persons. He was also concerned that continued violence would have an impact on security and stability of the region as a whole. Both an immediate and a long-term plan were needed. He was intrigued by the mention of the RUF cooperating with the UNHCR. For humanitarian reasons, one had to work with them. Sometimes, one had to use ignoble means to achieve noble goals.
He supported the call for strengthening UNAMSIL and said continued cooperation with ECOWAS was crucial for peace in the region. Expressing great appreciation for the Government of Guinea for having hosted the enormous number of refugees for so long, he urged the regional and international community to give full assistance to the Government of Guinea. He remained concerned about the safety of United Nations and humanitarian personnel and called on all parties to guarantee their safety.
OLE PETER KOLBY (Norway) said fighting in southern Guinea had once again forced Sierra Leonean refugees to flee from zones of conflict. The humanitarian agencies still lacked access to refugees who returned through the RUF-controlled areas in Sierra Leone. An organized return of refugees through northern Sierra Leone was not possible in the current situation. An agreement of safe passage for the refugees moving further north into Guinea was made with the Guinean Government during Mr. Lubbers’ visit. In the current situation, it was of the utmost importance that the Guinean authorities and the humanitarian agencies cooperate in relocating those vulnerable groups.
In an extremely difficult situation, the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) had started an organized and voluntary repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees from Conakry to Freetown by boat. He was concerned about the reception capacity for refugees in Sierra Leone. The return of large numbers of refugees might contribute to destabilization of areas, and he encouraged the authorities, as well as humanitarian agencies, to take steps to prevent further destabilization, he said.
Humanitarian workers carried out their work under difficult and often dangerous conditions, he said. In some conflicts, the warring parties had targeted humanitarian workers themselves. In West Africa, hostages had been taken and humanitarian workers had lost their lives. He strongly condemned such incidents and urged the governments in the region to do whatever possible to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian personnel, as well as their free and unimpeded access to the people who so desperately needed their assistance.
ANUND PRIYAY NEEWOOR (Mauritius) noted that Sierra Leonean refugees and displaced Guineans in the Parrot's Beak area had not received emergency relief food for five months. Of particular concern was the predicament of the elderly, women and children. The death rate among children under the age of five years in the refugee camps was still very high, and one third of infants born in Sierra Leone's Kenema District died before their first birthday.
Noting that the impact of the Sierra Leone civil war and its spillover effect into Guinea had been the principal cause of the refugees' misery, he stressed the need for leaders of the Mano River Union to address the issue at the highest political level. It was equally important for the President and Government of Liberia to be fully involved in finding a comprehensive solution for the safe return home of all refugees.
MUHAMMED ENAYET MOWLA (Bangladesh) said the only effective way to strengthen protection for the refugees was to strengthen UNAMSIL. That must be seen as a long-term solution, because the means for strengthening the Mission could not be carried out right away. The issue of refugee protection could not wait.
However, he stressed the need to consider all options. Some delegations had supported the idea of creating safe passage corridors while some delegations, in the Council, as well as outside, had expressed different ideas. There was clearly a need for detailed advice, study and discussion on that issue.
DAVID COONEY (Ireland) shared the international community’s deep concern at the situation of refugees and internally displaced persons in the border regions of Guinea and supported UNHCR efforts there. Workers on the ground were indeed doing heroic work under dangerous circumstances, and he called for access in safety to all refugees. All countries in the region and the international community had a responsibility to bring about a resolution allowing refugees to return home.
It was obvious that there were different views regarding the strengthening of UNAMSIL and establishing a safe route for refugees to return to Sierra Leone from Guinea. The Council would have to address those views. He asked Mr. Lubbers to address the concerns of some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in that regard, Médecins sans frontières among them.
FRANÇOIS LONSENY FALL (Guinea) expressed his gratitude to Mr. Lubbers for demonstrating his interest in the region by devoting his first visit abroad as High Commissioner to West Africa. Yesterday, the Council had imposed sanctions on Liberia and had, thereby, sent a strong message to cease support for the RUF.
He said Guinea had welcomed as many as 800,000 refugees over the past years. The sole cause of the situation in south-east Guinea was the armed attacks of rebel groups, with the support of the Government of Liberia. Refugee camps had not been spared either, and the town of Gueckedou had been completely destroyed. In October 1999, Sadako Ogata, then High Commissioner, had invited the international community to make sure that a country like Guinea should not have to pay such high a price. Hundreds of thousands were suffering, as well as thousands of Guineans.
For the repatriation of refugees, a safe humanitarian corridor had to be established, as well as safe reception areas in Sierra Leone. The Council must do everything it could to make that possible. His Government was confident that the international community would offer support to avoid aggravating a humanitarian disaster in the region. Goals to achieve in that regard were, among other things: a ceasefire in Sierra Leone; a halt to rebel incursions in Guinea; and the return of all refugees. He appealed to the international community to enhance the amount of aid to Guinea, in order to help it with the burden of caring for the refugees, and thanked it for past support.
VOLODYMYR YEL’CHENKO (Ukraine), the Council President, speaking in his national capacity, said his country was ready to increase its contribution to UNAMSIL and to peacekeeping elsewhere in Africa. Tomorrow, a Ukrainian helicopter unit comprising 110 personnel would be deployed with UNAMSIL.
He said that today's briefing was an important follow-up to yesterday's meeting in which members had stressed the need for the Security Council to work with other parts of the United Nations system. The High Commissioner’s observations called for a very precise role for the Council in addressing the needs of refugees.
Response by High Commissioner
Mr. LUBBERS, responding to questions by the representative of Jamaica, said there had been a remarkable slowdown in fighting in the Languette area. The road was open, and the UNHCR would assist those refugees coming out, especially the most vulnerable ones. However, the agency could not evacuate them all. Regarding refugees wishing to return to Sierra Leone, he said more land would be needed where they could be resettled. That took time.
He told the representative of the United Kingdom that long-term plans were as good as short-term plans. It would be foolish to succeed in the short term and fail in the long term. A short-term plan was best when it led to a successful long term.
Regarding assistance to refugees by the Bretton Woods institutions, he told the representative of Tunisia that he had been in Bamako, Mali, at the same time as the President of the World Bank and the Managing Director of the IMF. However, refugee assistance had not been the focus of their mission.
On repatriation, he told the representative of France that UNHCR’s first priority was to find safer places for the refugees within Guinea, not to repatriate as many refugees as possible.
Regarding UNAMSIL’s mandate, he said it did not create a problem. Rather, the problem was one of resources and troops.
The High Commissioner told the representative of the United States that UNHCR's intention was not to support safe corridors through RUF territory. The talks with the RUF had only been in the context of Kampiah. The group was prepared to pull out and leaving the area to UNAMSIL. The talks had nothing to do with the territory of Guinea.
Responding to the representative of Ireland and others, he said there was always a risk that the RUF would become aggressive again, but that underlined the need for a robust UNAMSIL presence. One could also not exclude the possibility that the RUF had a political interest in playing the political position. Given the presence of UNAMSIL and the Sierra Leone Army, strengthened by British training, the RUF must have recognized that it could no longer expect to seize the whole country.
He told the representative of Colombia that donor fatigue was one of the reasons for his visit to West Africa. Donor fatigue and the downward spiral in the humanitarian situation were not unacceptable. If there were no follow-up action in a few weeks, fatigue would certainly set in again.
Responding to the representative of Mali, he said UNAMSIL’S effort was to strengthen Sierra Leone and boost stability. The role of ECOWAS would be to control the border between Liberia and Guinea which was the interface for trouble. A sufficiently robust presence of both organizations would better challenge the RUF. He foresaw longer future cooperation between the two.
The High Commissioner agreed with the representative of China on the need to strike a balance between optimism and naivete in finding a way forward towards a solution.
Regarding the remarks of the representative of Mauritius about the importance of refugees’ relocation in Guinea, Mr. Lubbers stressed that relocation in Guinea was not the complete answer. It was not good to tell refugees to stay where they were, and that nothing was done to give them a perspective for repatriation. Also, in acquiring support of the Guinean army for cooperation, he had promised to try to improve the possibilities of repatriation.
He was not naïve about the RUF, he said, and he knew it was not safe for refugees to go back to territories controlled by the RUF. The plan was to research the possibility of the RUF refraining from actions in Guinea and to allow UNAMSIL to come in. The RUF tried to build a future for themselves in parts of Sierra Leone they dominated, and they also needed humanitarian support. They realized they were isolated by the international community and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). That was maybe the reason for taking a different course.
Regarding some NGOs’ concerns, he noted that at the moment three people from Médicins sans frontières were in RUF-controlled areas to assess the situation. He
had the impression there was a misunderstanding which he would address after the meeting.
He thanked the representative of Guinea for his Government’s cooperation. It was only fair, he said, that while paying tribute to that country’s generosity in sheltering the refugees, there should also be consideration for their repatriation.
He asked the Council to establish the political conditions for improving the refugees’ situation and for offering a future for them and their children. He called for a “frank follow-up” of this meeting.
IBRAHIM M’BABA KAMARA (Sierra Leone) paid tribute to the Government and people of Guinea who had hosted Sierra Leonean refugees. It was a poor country, but, against all odds, it had coped with a large influx of refugees. All had emphasized that the underlying problem was one of safety and security of innocent civilians in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
Thousands of Sierra Leoneans would like to return home, but that wish was linked with the level of hostilities along the borders of the Mano River Union States. There was also the question whether the villages and towns in Sierra Leone were safe to resettle. His Government supported safe corridors, but that was only one part of the equation.
A second, related issue was the capacity of his Government to accept those returnees. His Country was already overwhelmed by the large number of returnees and thousands of internally displaced persons. The situation was complex, but concerted efforts were needed on the part of all concerned, including those who were waging and directing aggression and banditry within and across the three countries, he said.
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