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Worrying events in West Africa

Briefing notes

Worrying events in West Africa

18 February 2003

Events in the West Africa region are very worrying.

In Liberia, the western part of the country saw renewed fighting over the past week that has prompted more than 30,000 people to flee their homes and head for the capital, Monrovia. And about 6,000 Liberians have gone into Sierra Leone, with thousands more reportedly on the way. This has caused alarm in Sierra Leone, which is just recovering from a painful, decade - long war itself. An inter - agency mission at the weekend reported that large areas of western Liberia have fallen under rebel control. In Monrovia at the weekend, we had reports that the rebels have pushed to around 20 kilometres outside the city. However, by yesterday, we were told that government forces had repulsed the rebels and the city was calm.

In Côte d'Ivoire, our offices continue to receive desperate requests from some of the estimated 40,000 Liberian refugees in the area wanting to be evacuated to a safe area or moved to other countries in the region. Yesterday (Monday), around 200 Liberian refugees again held a demonstration at our office in Abidjan, demanding that they be evacuated. The demonstration was the third in five days. The demonstrators - mostly women and children - said they had been harassed by host communities and Ivorian rebels. As you know, we have appealed to nations in West Africa to allow refuge for at least 10,000 of these refugees in Côte d'Ivoire, but there still have been no positive responses to our pleas. Since the conflict broke out in Côte d'Ivoire five months ago, more than 88,000 people have left the country and gone into the eastern part of Liberia, where it is relatively quiet. They include Liberian returnees, Ivorian refugees and immigrant workers.

Our staff on the ground are trying to cope with this situation despite the many security problems. We are making plans to airlift around 17,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in camps outside Monrovia to Sierra Leone. To the east, we have a team that set out this morning to look into a site for a fourth camp that we are setting up for arrivals from Côte d'Ivoire.