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Liberia: new tensions threaten repatriation operation

Briefing notes

Liberia: new tensions threaten repatriation operation

23 April 1999

New tensions in Liberia have raised concern about the ongoing repatriation operation. Early on Wednesday, fighting broke out in the northern Liberian town of Voinjama. A joint-UNHCR WFP food assessment mission was visiting the area at the time, with representatives from donor governments.

Who the combattants were was not clear. The mission took refuge at the UNHCR compound in Voinjama, where they were "visited" several times by unknown persons who relieved them of most of their valuables and personal effects.

On Thursday afternoon (22 April), the UN was able to send in a WFP helicopter to evacuate the group (16 persons) who arrived safely in Monrovia. Another 75 UN and NGO staff reached Monrovia safely by road. However, the toll from yesterday's events has been substantial in terms of material losses - many UN and NGO vehicles were commandeered and the UNHCR office was looted after staff left.

Other parts of Lofa County are calm but tense. In both Kolahun and Vahun, where UNHCR has offices, several NGO vehicles and drums of fuel are reported to have been taken away. As a result of the insecurity, 3,000 Liberian refugees have arrived in Macenta (Guinea) and others are in no man's land around Guéckédou, probably ready to proceed into Guinea.