Guinea-Bissau Humanitarian Situation Report, 31 Jan 1999

Situation Report
Originally published
Latest news:
1. Politico-military

According to a UN source in Bissau, shooting stopped after 21.00h last night. At 3.00h this morning, Monday, 1st February, it resumed again with both light and heavy weapons fired by both sides. At 8.00h, the military junta issued a communiqué stating that the state of war was a fact, and they had no other alternative than fighting back. Fighting was heavy until 10.30h, when the military junta issued a new communiqué, asking the population of Bissau to leave the city before 13.10h. As of 14.00h, the situation remains calm.

The 1st Consul of the Portuguese Embassy in Dakar informed this morning that the Embassy and the Residence of the Ambassador have been hit during the shooting on Sunday. No casualties have been reported. Most of the shelling hit the centre of town. According to different sources, shelling also hit the hospital and the ICRC office in Bissau.

The request made yesterday to the junta to fly a plane to Bafata, on Monday morning, was refused last night. No authorization will be granted until further notice. It looks as if the junta is worried that some kind of military action may come from the north (the border between Senegal and Guinea Bissau) based on recent clashes reported earlier in January. However, ECHO representative in Dakar, informs that a French helicopter has evacuated member of personnel from Bissau earlier today. The delegate of the EU is included among those evacuated.

2. Impact on security:

As a result of the junta's refusal to grant authorization to fly a plane to Bafata this morning, the security team is considering an evacuation of international staff by road from Bafata to Gabu en route to Wassadou (Senegal) and than to Dakar. In addition, over twenty local staff left Bissau for Bafata where they are staying with families and friends.

Hiro Matsumura, Director of WFP, Julio Risquet, UN doctor and Fernando Larrauri, Humanitarian Affairs Officer are safe at the WFP Office in Bissau. They keep in touch on a regular basis with the three embassies of France, Portugal and Sweden to assess the evolution of the situation. The decision to leave will be taken in close consultation with them.

Over twenty local staff and their family members are at the UN building with a stock of food and water.

3. Access issue:

Last week, according to the Ministry of Interior, over twenty trucks were stuck at the border between Wassadou and Pirada. The Senegalese military commander of Kolda refused all week to allow any truck to pass the border. It took three days (Wednesday night until Saturday morning) of OCHA discussion with the Ministry of Interior for the authorization to be granted to cross the border. Four UNICEF trucks were among the twenty trucks stranded at the border. They reached Bafata during the day on Saturday, 30 January 1999.

4. Humanitarian impact:

Within few hours on Sunday morning, most of the population who returned to Bissau left to go back to Safim, Prabis and Cumura.

The resumption of hostilities put, once more, into question the pre-positioning of food directly to Bissau for distribution to those in need in the city (now "estimated" at between 25,000 and 50,000 people). It is expected that the number of civilians in Bissau will reduce again as a result of the junta communiqué of this morning.

As soon as possible, assessment of the situation will be undertaken from Bafata for Safim. Evaluation of Prabis and Cumura will only be done once access becomes possible.

A meeting with the NGOs will take place today in Dakar to share information, analyze the situation and review the contingency plan needed for an appropriate humanitarian response.

5. Humanitarian assistance:

In Bissau, there are people, including a group of children, stranded in the city. A Programme of food assistance is being planned for the children through local staff of Plan International. WFP has a stock of 100MT of food in Bissau which is planned to be used for the few who stayed behind and to assist at the hospital.

Yvon Madore
OCHA - Guinea Bissau

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit