Press Briefing by UNCHR

Preview Language:   English
28-Apr-1997 00:25:25
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Sadako Ogata, said that the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire had given UNHCR 60 days in which to repatriate the estimated 80,000 Rwandan refugees that recently disappeared from encampments south of Kisangani, Zaire.

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Speaking at a press briefing at Headquarters, Ms. Ogata said the Alliance had also agreed to undertake a commission of inquiry into allegations of human rights abuses in territory under its control. Antonio Monteiro, Permanent Representative of Portugal and President of the Security Council for the month of April, also took part in the briefing.

Ms. Ogata said she had briefed the Secretary-General and the Security Council this morning on the situations in eastern Zaire and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The last time she had briefed the Council had been six months and three days ago, when fighting had dislodged some 1 million Rwandan Hutu refugees from dozens of camps in eastern Zaire. Today, some 1.2 million refugees had returned to Rwanda from Zaire and the United Republic of Tanzania, but the plight of those remaining in Zaire was precarious.

Ms. Ogata went onto say that she had informed the Council of discussions that UNHCR carried out with Laurent Kabila, leader of the Alliance, and with representatives of the European Union. An agreement had been forged whereby UNHCR would regain access to the 80,000 refugees in question, in order to provide humanitarian assistance and secure their repatriation. However, the 60-day deadline imposed by Mr. Kabila presented a daunting task.

There were huge obstacles in assisting the refugees because they were scattered over a wide area, Ms. Ogata said. The UNHCR must have unimpeded and safe access, and there was a vital need for continued pressure on all the parties. The UNHCR had received second-hand reports from many sources of alleged abuse of refugees at camps and in areas near Goma and Bukavu. The abduction of women and children from a paediatric hospital near Bukavu had also been reported. She had personally written to Mr. Kabila about the matter and he had agreed to the dispatch of a mission of human rights investigators.

The Council was also told about repatriation efforts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which Ms. Ogata had visited two weeks ago, she said. To date, only 25 per cent of 2.2 million refugees from that country had been repatriated. Ethnic relocation was not a solution for a peaceful and multi- ethnic Bosnia unless relocation was voluntary.

Ms. Ogata stressed the importance of the security of UNHCR civilian humanitarian staff, a matter she said was uppermost in her mind. Her staff was taking greater risks today than ever before. Humanitarian agencies should not be left alone with unresolved political and security problems, she said.

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