April 29, 2004

Civilians Killed and Injured in Northern Uganda Attack

New York/Luanda: April 29, 2004 - The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is very concerned about the inhumane conditions under which Congolese and other foreign illegal diamond miners are deported from Angola. MSF appeals to the Angolan authorities to guarantee basic needs and protection of these individuals.

Last week, , in a joint needs assessment together with the government agency UTCAH and the UN agencies OCHA and UNICEF, MSF's medical teams observed the situation firsthand along the road Cuango-Cafunfu-Luremo in Lunda Norte province to the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at Tunguila. To date, the Angolan authorities claim to have deported about 53,000 Congolese illegal diamond miners through this region and have announced that a further 50,000 to 100,000 people will be deported through this region in the near future.

In a holding area in the diamond-mining town Cafunfu, about 2,800 men of various nationalities have been held since March 28. There are no basic services available in the holding areas. Water, food, shelter and sanitation are not available. Medical services are only provided to the very sick. As yet, it is unclear how much longer these men will have to remain in these conditions.

Angolan army trucks transport the Congolese miners as far as Luremo, 40 miles from the border. These trucks are open to the sun and individuals are transported in exceptionally cramped conditions. Most miners have very few possessions left once they leave Luremo because the majority of their possessions have been looted along the way.

In Luremo itself, expelled miners are searched for diamonds and other valuables - many are subjected to degrading anal and vaginal searches, sometimes with sticks. Often, the same latex glove is used to search a large number of people.

Once in Luremo, the men are supposed to walk the final 40 miles to Tunguila, which takes several days in very hot and humid conditions. No food or water is available during this journey, and people have been arriving at the border in an extremely exhausted state. The MSF team could not observe what happens at the border itself, as the authorities have refused to grant access.

Water, food and medical services are insufficient or totally lacking along the way. In Luremo, MSF staff encountered a woman who was about to give birth. Despite her condition, she had still been transported forcibly to the Tunguila border. She was very close to delivery and there was no medical assistance available. In Tunguila, the team met a woman who was so exhausted and dehydrated that she could no longer recognize her own two children. Earlier, in Cafunfu, the team met a woman who had been gang-raped by three men in police uniforms. Her medical condition was especially grave as she had delivered her baby only ten days earlier.

MSF plans to start a medical intervention in Luremo to assist the returnees.

MSF calls on the Angolan government to guarantee the protection of these people from violence and to attend to their basic human needs as soon as possible.

MSF has been present in Angola since 1983 providing medical care throughout the country. MSF is currently present in 13 of the country's 18 provinces, addressing the needs of the most vulnerable by focusing on the treatment of neglected diseases (malaria, tuberculosis, and trypanosomiasis) among isolated populations in remote areas.

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