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Liberian refugees in Côte d'Ivoire trickle back

Briefing notes

Liberian refugees in Côte d'Ivoire trickle back

26 September 2003

Editor's note: We mistakenly identified the rebels in and around Zwedru as belonging to LURD when in fact they belong to MODEL. The correction has been made in the text below.

Liberian refugees in Côte d'Ivoire have begun trickling back into the relatively peaceful Zwedru area in eastern Liberia, an inter - agency mission reported after a four - day trip to the region this week. The mission said the area was under the control of the rebel group, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL). The group has occupied the UNHCR office in Zwedru, which remained intact, but the MODEL commander said he would leave the office once UNHCR resumed operations in the region.

During the trip, the mission saw on the road small groups of Liberian returnees from Côte d'Ivoire. They belong to the same Kranh tribe as the MODEL fighters. Some returnees said they felt they were no longer welcome in Côte d'Ivoire, which was engulfed in civil strife after a failed coup a year ago. Others feared the continuing political uncertainty there. Some Ivorian refugees said they preferred to remain in Zwedru in the meantime. At the height of the political turmoil in Côte d'Ivoire, an estimated 38,000 Ivorian refugees and 15,000 immigrant workers there fled to Liberia. Many of the Ivorians subsequently returned and majority of the immigrants were assisted in going back to their countries

The mission to Zwedru is one of several fielded to look into the situation in the country since rebel groups signed a pact with the caretaker government of Liberia following President Charles Taylor's departure last month. While the fragile situation in the country is gradually showing signs of improvement, fighting has been reported in some areas in central Liberia, mainly in the Bong and Nimba regions. This has caused an influx over the past two weeks into Guinea of some 6,000 Liberians, fearing ethnic reprisals. Guinea hosts most of the 310,000 Liberian refugees in West Africa.

UNHCR staff in the Guinean town of Nzérékoré was moving arrivals to camps in the interior, but they also report that some Liberians stayed only briefly. These were people from Lofa county whose departure was caused by fears fighting in Bong and Nimba would spread.

While the situation in the central region is alarming, we are optimistic that it will improve once the expected 15,000 peacekeepers begin deploying in mid - October to replace a West African force of 3,500 men.

UNHCR has been providing emergency assistance to both refugees and internally displaced people in coordination with other UN agencies and NGOs in Liberia.