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Liberia: Plans for emergency aid in north-west

Briefing notes

Liberia: Plans for emergency aid in north-west

21 October 2003

One week after the inauguration of the government of national reconciliation in Monrovia, UNHCR and other organizations are drawing up plans to provide emergency aid to thousands of displaced people who have returned to their homes in north-western Liberia. An inter-agency mission flew to the region on Saturday and was met in Voinjama, 260 km north of Monrovia, by scores of Liberians. The day-long visit to Voinjama was the first since the UN pulled out of the area four years ago.

Local authorities say 15,000 of the town's pre-war population of 20,000 have gone back, including 475 who returned from the bush in the past several days. Most of those in the area appeared to be members of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, or LURD, or their followers and families.

LURD launched a rebellion in April 1999 from Voinjama, a three-hour walk from the border with Guinea, and together with another armed group, Movement for Democracy in Liberia, or MODEL, drove former president Charles Taylor into exile in August. These guerrillas later signed a peace agreement with an interim government, ending 14 years of continual civil conflict.

The UN mission reported that Voinjama had been completely looted. Even tin roofing sheets have disappeared. The town hospital was in total ruins but a clinic was operating with very limited supplies. The UNHCR office and our staff houses were destroyed, along with the Catholic mission and an old health facility. Access roads were overgrown with bush. Although the population appears to be in good health and there seems to be no sign of malnutrition, authorities say the residents lack food, medicine and clothing. There was also insufficient drinking water.

The team found a building near the municipal offices that LURD officials agreed could be used as a joint UN office and residence. The mission also agreed that Voinjama must be accessed by road as soon as possible so that emergency relief could begin.

Since the departure of Taylor, relative peace has been reported in large areas of Liberia. In the north-eastern part of the country, Liberians have been trickling back from Côte d'Ivoire. However, skirmishes have been reported in central Liberia, particularly in Bong and Nimba counties. There have been recent reports of uprooted people on the move as a result of clashes with Taylor loyalists.

In Monrovia, meanwhile, UNHCR has been involved in an inter-agency effort to decongest camps for internally displaced people, or IDPs, particularly in schools that are being cleaned in time for the resumption of classes later this month. Since last month, 3,000 IDPs have been relocated from a dozen schools. Around 150,000 of the estimated 500,000 IDPs are in the greater Monrovia area, crammed in makeshift shelters and private houses. Surrounding countries also host some 260,000 Liberian refugees.