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Liberia: Access remains difficult for humanitarian agencies

Briefing notes

Liberia: Access remains difficult for humanitarian agencies

5 September 2003

Continued fighting in some parts of Liberia is causing more displacement by the day in areas that remain difficult for humanitarian agencies to access. Yesterday, UNHCR sent six trucks to Salala, some 90 km north-east of Monrovia, with the first batch of emergency relief goods destined to help some 50,000 people who fled the displaced camps around Totota, further north, on Wednesday. The movement began as reports of a LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) attack on a town further north emerged, followed by reports of widespread looting in the displaced camps. The scene on Wednesday was one of total chaos and misery - long lines of people walking along the road between Totota and Salala, carrying heavy bundles and begging humanitarian teams for help, transport, food and security.

The trucks sent on Thursday were part of an inter-agency effort to reach out to these people, many of whom have been displaced several times. We want to assist them in Salala, where many have found a temporary shelter for the night. Salala 1 camp was already hosting 30,000 before - even though it was planned for 7,000 - so there are chances that the population may have at least doubled overnight. The Totota camps, which the people deserted on Wednesday, were home to between 60-80,000 persons who are all believed to be on the move. In time, there is also a great concern about a possible massive exodus into Monrovia - the only area secured by ECOMIL forces for now. This could cause immense security and health problems in the capital.

Some 2,000 pieces of plastic sheeting were delivered in Salala yesterday, together with water and high-protein biscuits provided by UNICEF and the NGO, Concern. More people were seen walking along the road in an exodus that had already lasted two days. UNHCR remains extremely concerned about security for the displaced and about the presence of heavily-armed militia who were circling around the warehouse building where humanitarian staff were placing the relief goods. The distribution by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) was due to start today. We are awaiting news of the distribution before sending more trucks, possibly as early as tomorrow.

While in Salala yesterday, UNHCR staff heard reports of renewed fighting in Kolela, 30 km north of Salala, possibly causing more displacement. UNHCR appeals on all parties to respect the ceasefire and ensure the safety of civilians, in order to minimise further displacement.

Meanwhile the distribution of relief items to more than 3,000 displaced persons in Perry Town, one of the eight IDP (internally displaced persons) camps around Monrovia, was completed yesterday.