February 11, 1998

Civilians Trapped and Under Fire - Wounded Unable to Reach Hospital

Freetown/New York, February 12, 1998 — The team of the international medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown, made an urgent appeal today for an immediate ceasefire between the warring parties to allow civilians trapped on the Freetown peninsula to escape the shelling and for the wounded to be collected, so that they can reach the hospitals in safety. The teams called for safe and free access to the victims for humanitarian organizations, and for the resumption of relief supply operations into the country and to the capital's 600,000 population.

The shelling of the city increased yesterday evening, getting even closer to the Connaught hospital and continues today in town, claiming more civilian casualties. MSF's surgical team in the Connaught hospital treated 122 wounded yesterday alone, 12 of whom later died. They performed 25 emergency surgical operations. Stocks in the hospital are running dangerously low, as MSF has had no access to its warehouse for several days, and there has been widespread looting.

"The situation is untenable," MSF Head of Mission Martha Carey said today. "The only wounded who make it to the hospital have had to walk through town; but when there is fighting on the street, this is not possible." Ms. Carey confirmed that hundreds of thousands of people are trapped in the city and cannot flee the fighting, but it is too insecure for aid organizations to assist them. No assurances of safety have been given to humanitarian staff.

MSF is extremely concerned about the now acute shortage of food in the capital, and urges the parties to the conflict to allow the immediate resumption of food and other forms of humanitarian assistance.

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