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Côte d'Ivoire: Liberian refugees wait to return

Briefing notes

Côte d'Ivoire: Liberian refugees wait to return

4 November 2003

Thousands of Liberian refugees are encamped on the Côte d'Ivoire side of the border with Liberia, waiting to return to their homeland as soon as relief aid becomes available, an inter-agency mission that visited north-eastern Liberia has reported. The mission spent five days in the region and returned yesterday (Monday) to Monrovia.

At Zwedru, in Grand Gedeh County, local authorities said that some 4,500 people in 900 Liberian families were waiting on the Ivorian side. These Liberians were reported to be prepared to move back to Liberia as soon as food and medicine become available.

In an earlier visit to the area last month, relief authorities said some 3,000 to 4,000 Liberians had returned to the region from Côte d'Ivoire following the deployment of West African troops and the departure of former President Charles Taylor into exile in August, ending 14 years of civil conflict. However, humanitarian activities remain limited pending the full deployment of 15,000 UN peacekeepers, expected in the coming months. Around 257,000 Liberian refugees are in the neighbouring countries, including 147,000 who fled the June-August fighting.

The inter-agency team that spent two nights in Zwedru reported the number of people in the town 25 km from the Côte d'Ivoire border appeared to have increased. Most of the residents of Zwedru fled to Côte d'Ivoire at the height of the two-and-a-half-month rebel push into Monrovia before Taylor's departure.

Over the weekend, the team proceeded overland without problems to Harper in Liberia's eastern Atlantic coast county of Mariland. There, the team was told that some Ivorian refugees who had fled a civil conflict in Côte d'Ivoire last year had gone back and that a camp for 1,170 Ivorians has been largely occupied by displaced Liberians. Only around 30 Ivorians remain there. The camp infrastructure remains but there was little food and medicine and the people there fear harassment by armed groups. Signs of malnutrition were evident among children.

Another team went on Saturday to Gbarnga in Nimba county, where intermittent clashes have been reported between Taylor loyalists and troops of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), a former rebel group that has now joined the government of national reconciliation. The team said there were no security problems when they were in the area during the weekend.