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Thousands flee to Sierra Leone after attack in Liberia

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Thousands flee to Sierra Leone after attack in Liberia

24 June 2002 Also available in:

24 June 2002

Geneva - UNHCR today (Monday) said an estimated 4,000 people have fled from Liberia to Sierra Leone, following a rebel attack last Thursday on Sinje refugee camp - home to 24,000 Sierra Leone refugees and local Liberians. On Sunday alone, almost 1,400 people - a mix of Liberians and Sierra Leoneans - crossed into Sierra Leone. More were reported to be on their way. Large groups have also arrived in Liberia's capital, Monrovia.

UNHCR said it was gravely concerned about the fate of thousands more Sierra Leonean refugees and local residents dispersed in the attack. The UN refugee agency also reiterated an appeal for the immediate release of five NGO nurses who were abducted by the rebels in a UNHCR ambulance. They were reportedly taken to Voinjama, an alleged rebel stronghold in northern Liberia, near the border with Guinea. The women were originally allowed to radio their head office in Monrovia to say that they were being treated well. But no contact has been made with them since Saturday.

"The situation in Liberia, already quite difficult, has now worsened dramatically, putting at risk both Sierra Leone refugees and the local population," said David Lambo - UNHCR's Africa Director.

UNHCR said the entire population of the Sinje camp - 11,000 Sierra Leoneans and 13,000 Liberians - fled during the attack by a rebel group which calls itself "Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy" (LURD). The rebels also attacked the neighbouring town of Sinje. Its population of 4,000 also escaped.

Former residents of the Sinje camp, who made their way to Liberia's capital, Monrovia and to neighbouring Sierra Leone, said the camp had been looted and stripped of everything of value. It was not clear who controlled the area around the camp on Monday.