Guinea-Bissau Humanitarian Situation Report, 03 Feb 1999

Politico-military events of the first four days:
1. This crisis started Sunday, 31 January 1999, between 5.00 and 6.00h in the morning. According to a UN eye witness, the Loyalist Forces of President Vieira started the shooting.

2. Light arms and artillery fire started during the first hours. One hour later, and for about one hour, the junta replied with light arms until a communiqué was issued by the junta, asking all their soldiers to stop shooting in order to respect the mourning declared after the Bishop's death. Faced with unabated fighting well into half the day, in the afternoon, the military junta started to reply with small and heavy weapons until about 15.30h.

3. During the morning of Sunday, ECOMOG requested both sides to stop the fighting, but the Loyalist troops refused to comply.

4. According to the Portuguese Press, until Tuesday afternoon, two hundred are reported among civilians while fleeing the city towards Safim, and, according to ICRC in Bissau, a very high number of wounded (150 to 200 people in the central hospital in Bissau alone). The hospitals are short of medicines and staff.

5. The Portuguese and Swedish Chargé d'Affaires, in Bissau, were refused audience twice by President VIEIRA who informed he did not have time for them. The Swedish Chargé d'Affaires succeeded to meet the President on Tuesday late afternoon. No information is available on the conclusion of their meeting.

6. The agreement for the deployment of 600 ECOMOG forces was signed by ECOWAS and the Military Junta. But we were not able to confirm the President VIEIRA's signature to the agreement.

7. For the first time since the beginning of the hostilities in June 1998, both sides have used heavier caliber and more deadly kind of artillery.

8. 300 ECOMOG troops left Dakar on Sunday afternoon and arrived near Bissau at around 12.00 on Monday 1st February. The French authorities ordered the Captain of the ship to stay away from the port and wait until further notice.

9. The entire ECOMOG forces deployment programme as well as the establishement of the Government of National Unity was to be established on Sunday, 7 February 1999, 600 ECOMOG troops were to be deployed in Bissau at the latest on 3 February and all the Senegalese and Conakry troops withdrawn within 10 days of the arrival of the ECOMOG troops.

10. It is clear that the usual peace brokers (the three Embassies, the National Commission of Good Will, ECOWAS or CPLP) are in weak position to bring the parties on the path of a peaceful solution to this new phase. A radio station in Dakar announced, Wednesday morning, that the President Eyadema of Togo sent his Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense to Bissau in an attempt to reach a cease-fire before 12h00 today. But at 10h45, the two emissaries had not arrived in Bissau that remained under heavy fighting all morning.

11. The Heads of Agencies agreed, on Sunday, January 31, 1999, to evacuate all non-essential staff including nationals to Bafata and from there, all international staff that were based in Bissau, by car to Dakar. 21 vehicles moved with the assistance of ECOMOG from Bissau through the front line, en route to Bafata. They arrived safe and sound to Bafata at 19h30 on Sunday.

12. 15 International personnel, including consultants (from UNDP and the World Bank) and UN staff, left Bafata by road, on Tuesday morning, at 8h50h to Pirada-Wassadou. They arrived at 22h15 in Dakar.

13. The Heads of Agencies agreed also, on Sunday, to leave behind three international staff (Hiro MATSUMURA form WFP, Fernando LARRAURI, OCHA and Dr, Julio RISQUET, UNV medical doctor).

14. Because of the worsening of the situation, on Monday afternoon, the Heads of Agencies decided to evacuate the three international staff that had stayed behind in Bissau. They were requested to keep in touch with the three Embassies (French, Portuguese and Swedish) and to contact in particular the French Embassy in Bissau to request their assistance to evacuate. The UN Resident Coordinator met the French Embassy in Dakar and requested UNSECOORD to do the same in New York asking that they provide instructions to their Embassy in Bissau to assist our staff.

15. However, the French Embassy has not been able to undertake any evacuation after Monday morning. After consultation with ECOMOG who negotiated with the Loyalist and the Military Junta commanders, a nine-vehicle convoy with 20 people, including 2 UN international staff, 3 UN national staff and dependents and a number of diplomats from the Swedish Embassy (including the Swedish Chargé d'Affaires) left Bissa at 9.45h on Wednesday. At time of this report, they are on their way to Bafata.

Humanitarian impact of the crisis:

16. As of Sunday, the Junta has refused flights into Bafata or Bissau for either evacuation or humanitarian assistance.

17. Only 20,000 to 30,000 people remained in Bissau out of an estimated 300,000 people that had returned since October 1998.

18. The Humanitarian Working Group of the DMT met to evaluate the situation in Guinea Bissau. The dimension of the impact is still to be assessed, however, it is confirmed that the population have concentrated in the three areas they went to during the previous hostilities : Prabis, Cumura and Safim.

19. As of Tuesday, movement of population is reported towards Bafat, Mansoa, Bissora and Canchungo.

20. WHO and MSF confirmed cases of meningitis in Bafata region and there are serious suspicion of another source of infection in Oio region.

Humanitarian response:

21. A Humnaitarian Working group will meet on a daily basis in Dakar and liaise regularly with Bafata by telephone and radio. OCHA has organized a first meeting with the NGOs and will maintain such meeting three times a week to coordinate all efforts.

22. The most urgent humanitarian response required is to undertake a vaccination campaign against meningitis in Bafata and Oio. Measures are being taken to deliver 45,000 doses of vaccines (20,000 from WHO and 25,000 from MSF) as soon as possible. WHO, UNICEF and MSF are orchestrating the campaign.

23. In Bissau, food was distributed yesterday by WFP and local NGOs to an estimated 7,000 people.

24. A team composed of staff from WFP, Caritas, and MSF visited Safim yesterday to evaluate the humanitarian situation. A report is expected later today. But, a radio communication suggest that is the most immediate requirements in Safim, Cumura and Prabis.

25. ICRC kept two international staff in Bissau. Two other are based in Bubaque where medical supplies, for the Central Hospital "Simao Mendes",in Bissau, are expected on Friday, from where they will be transported to Bissau on a Zodiac.

26. Stock of food are low in Bafata and Bissau. WFP is organizing a convoy from Conakry to deliver up to 400 MT of rice to add to the 934 MT of food and 114 MT of food ration already positioned there. In Bissau, the food stock is limited to 675 MT of food of which only 186 MT of rice. There are also 300 MT of Wheat flour available in Bissau.

27. Other 1,370 MT of food (rice and oil) are available in Banjul (Gambia). The only option is to deliver by road with the high risk of problems at the border between Senegal and Guinea Bissau.

Major constraints:

28. The two major constraints urgently needed humanitarian response will be faced with are access and quantity of food required to sustain a response during the coming few weeks.

29. The departure of all staff from Bissau is likely to create similar problem to the one the UN was faced with between June and November 1998. For the time being, ICRC will assure humanitarian assistance along with members of the National Commission for Solidarity and Humanitarian Response.

Please forward this information to OCHA, and through them, to all UN agencies.

Resident Coordinator a.i.
OCHA - Guinea Bissau
February 3, 1999


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