Renewed fighting uproots thousands in Liberia
MONROVIA, Liberia, June 7 (UNHCR) - New fighting shattered a few days of relative calm in Liberia's volatile north, driving thousands of people into flight, UNHCR said on Friday. It was not clear whether certain areas were overrun by rebels or remained in government hands, following intense clashes in Bong county, north-east of Liberia's capital, Monrovia.
The agency said the fighting has uprooted tens of thousands of people, both local residents and Sierra Leonean refugees living in Liberia. UNHCR workers said they were particularly concerned about more than 13,000 Sierra Leonean refugees and local Liberians blocked without aid in the Sinje camps, 100 km north-west of Monrovia. They said new fighting dashed hopes for a speedy resupply of the camp, which has been inaccessible to aid workers for weeks.
"We have been in contact with them by radio and we know that they will run out of food and fuel soon," said Astrid van Genderen Stort, UNHCR's spokeswoman for West Africa. She said UNHCR would be unable to resupply the camp without solid assurances from the Liberian government that the road from Monrovia to Sinje was safe.
UNHCR also expressed concern about the plight of more than 150,000 people internally displaced within Liberia. The agency said the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) has increased steeply over the past weeks.
It said a majority of the recently-displaced people have gathered around Zuannah town outside Monrovia in a camp nicknamed VOA which now houses nearly 30,000 people. Many more of the displaced are housed in makeshift camps, classrooms, transit centres, and other temporary shelters across the country. van Genderen Stort said amid the current confusion in Liberia, UNHCR was unable to tell the whereabouts of many of the displaced.
Years of civil war in Liberia have devastated the country, turning it into one of the main sources of refugees in West Africa. Liberia's impoverished neighbour, Guinea, is presently hosting close to 100,000 Liberian refugees. Sierra Leone, which itself only recently emerged from years of civil war, hosts over 24,000 Liberians. Another 130,000 remain in Côte d'Ivoire.