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Liberia: fighting engulfs Zwedru transit camp

Briefing notes

Liberia: fighting engulfs Zwedru transit camp

28 March 2003

Fresh rebel fighting in eastern Liberia has engulfed UNHCR's transit camp in Zwedru, raising concerns about the fate of 5,000 Ivorian refugees and other nationals. Meanwhile, we have relocated our staff from all locations along the Liberian/Ivorian border due to security concerns.

On Wednesday, rebel forces attacked Zwedru, in Grand Geddeh county, near the border with Côte d'Ivoire, where we have a transit centre for some 5,000 Ivorian refugees and other West African nationals. Two of our local staff managed to escape to the south, but we have no information on the whereabouts of the refugees.

The fighting erupted as we were making plans to move all refugees from Zwedru to another transit centre in Harper, on the Atlantic coast, because of growing insecurity in Grand Geddeh county.

This is the second attack on the area in less than a month. On February 28, rebels reportedly coming in from Côte d'Ivoire attacked Toe Town, some 80 km north of Zwedru. Three humanitarian workers of the Adventist Relief and Development Agency (ADRA) were killed and thousands of people were forced to flee, including the 2,500 people hosted at our Toe Town transit centre.

Following fresh hostilities in Toe Town, we have relocated most of our Liberian staff from our four border locations to Monrovia.

Liberia's eastern regions were relatively untouched by war until a few months ago, when people fleeing the conflict in western Côte d'Ivoire started flooding in. Since then, the Ivorian crisis has trickled over to neighbouring Liberia. The unstable situation in Liberia has severely hampered our efforts to assist some 100,000 persons - Ivorian refugees as well as Liberians and other West Africans previously living in Côte d'Ivoire - who have fled into Liberia since November.

Besides the refugees, we are also very concerned about the safety of humanitarian workers in the region. Just weeks after the Toe Town killings, four staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were killed on the other side of the border, in western Côte d'Ivoire.

To help people affected by the Ivorian crisis, UNHCR has appealed for a total of $29 million in funds. More than 120,000 people have been affected by the six-month conflict, which remains largely unpredictable despite progress on the political front.

In Liberia, our two other offices near the border with Côte d'Ivoire - Saclepea in Nimba county, and Harper in Mariland county - were reported to be calm on Thursday.

In a separate development, rebels on Tuesday attacked a camp for internally displaced persons at Ricks Institute, some 20 km outside Monrovia. The attack killed several people, and government reports say thousands of displaced persons were abducted by the rebels.

Responding to news that the rebels had advanced as close as 10 km to Monrovia on Tuesday, UNHCR staff were instructed to remain at home, but resumed work at the office on Wednesday.