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Guinea refugee aid to resume

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February 17, 2001 


ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) The U.N. refugee agency said Friday it would resume providing aid to dozens of refugee camps cut off by months of fighting along the southern borders of Guinea.

Ruud Lubbers, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said after a weeklong trip to Guinea and other West African nations that he had received assurances from Guinea for ``safe access to and safe passage for'' tens of thousands of refugees trapped by the clashes.

U.N. refugee workers now plan to return to the southwestern region known as the Parrot's Beak a strip of Guinean territory that juts into war-ravaged Sierra Leone as soon as next week, Lubbers told a news briefing during the fourth stop of the five-nation tour.

It's not clear what or who sparked the current conflict. The borders where the three countries meet are traveled by soldiers and dissidents from both Guinea and Liberia, as well as pro-government civilian militias and Revolutionary United Front rebels.

An estimated 150,000 refugees, however, remain trapped in the Parrot's Beak, where U.N. workers have been unable to reach them since November. In desperation, some have fled back into parts of Sierra Leone controlled by the country's feared Revolutionary United Front rebels.

Guinea, one of the world's poorest nations, has one of Africa's largest refugee populations including 122,000 Liberians who fled their country's seven-year civil war, which ended in 1996, and 330,000 Sierra Leoneans who escaped their country's decade-old conflict.

Tens of thousands of them have been on the move since September, fleeing fighting that broke out in the dense forests along the country's borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Sierra Leone's rebels have killed tens of thousands of civilians and mutilated many more in a campaign of terror. They signed and abandoned three peace accords before agreeing to a November cease-fire that appears to be holding.

Lubbers, who assumed the U.N. refugee agency's top post last month, planned to meet Saturday with Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, before continuing Sunday to Mali.

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