Despite improved security, Liberians trickle into Guinea
MONROVIA, Liberia, Sept 30 (UNHCR) - Hundreds of Liberian refugees are trickling into Guinea despite a general improvement in the security situation in Liberia since President Charles Taylor went into exile last month.
The refugee departures are mainly from central Liberia. Fighting has been reported in the past two weeks between rebels of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and Taylor's militias in Bong and Nimba counties. No clashes have been reported in Lofa, but threats of rebel attacks there have prompted people to flee.
"In some of these areas, armed men would fire into the air so the villagers would leave and the gunmen would then loot their houses," one relief worker said.
Over the past two weeks, 6,000 Liberians from these three counties were reported to have fled to Guinea. Of this number, 3,700 have registered with the UN refugee agency and are being transported to refugee camps inland.
"Some of these Liberians are going back and forth across the border," said UNHCR's Cesar Pastor-Ortega on the Guinea side of the frontier. However, he said the rate of arrivals has slowed in recent days.
This week, the refugee agency has so far registered 500 Liberians at the Guinean border areas of Bignamou and another 760 at Baala. These refugees are mainly from Lofa county. They left their homes fearing reports of harassment, looting and rape in Bong and Nimba. There were also unconfirmed reports of summary executions.
Guinea hosts 133,000 of the 315,000 Liberian refugees in West Africa.
An inter-agency mission set out today from Monrovia to Gbarnga, the main town in Bong county 180 km to the north-east, to look into the situation in the region. The mission was to go to Gbarnga last week but was held back because of fighting. The town was reported to be empty.
In eastern Liberia, Liberian refugees have been drifting back from Côte d'Ivoire since the situation improved following the deployment of a West African force of 3,500 and Taylor's departure in August. Between 3,000 and 4,000 Liberians were reported to have returned to Grand Gedeh county from Côte d'Ivoire, which shelters 52,000 Liberian refugees.
In western Liberia, UNHCR is exploring the possibility of using land routes to repatriate an estimated 14,000 Sierra Leonean refugees remaining in the country.
The refugee agency is also helping other relief agencies in decongesting camps for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people, or IDPs. UNHCR is handing out plastic sheeting, blankets, jerry cans and kitchen sets in 10 of the several dozen IDP camps in and out of Monrovia.