Send international peacekeeping force into Liberia, reiterates Lubbers
GENEVA, June 27 (UNHCR) - Expressing grave concern over resurgent fighting in Liberia, UN refugee agency chief Ruud Lubbers has reiterated his call for peace and for an international peacekeeping force to be deployed to the strife-torn country.
At a press briefing in Geneva on Friday, UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said High Commissioner Lubbers was gravely concerned about the uncertain fate of the 15,000 Sierra Leonean refugees who were displaced from camps around Monrovia by recent fighting. According to sketchy reports, up to 1,000 refugees and displaced Liberians have sought refuge in and around UNHCR's compound in the capital. Many others are believed to be camping in stadiums, school and other public buildings in Monrovia.
Redmond also conveyed the High Commissioner's worries about the safety of remaining aid workers who are struggling to provide assistance amid reports of shelling and gunfire within the city. This includes some 30 local staff working for the refugee agency.
At least 11 of Liberia's 15 counties have been affected by fighting between government and rebel troops, causing untold suffering to hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Nearly half of the country's 2.7 million people have been displaced or are in danger of displacement.
The Liberian conflict is also threatening the stability of neighbouring countries. Of the more than half a million refugees scattered across the region, some 300,000 are from Liberia. Affected neighbours include Sierra Leone - still recovering from years of bloody civil war - and Côte d'Ivoire, itself reeling from nine months of rebel fighting.
UNHCR's office in Abidjan has warned that the deteriorating situation in Liberia could lead to another massive influx of refugees into Côte d'Ivoire. In the last month alone, some 27,000 fleeing Liberians have arrived in Côte d'Ivoire, where local hostilities towards the Liberian refugees continue to simmer. The refugee agency recently launched an information campaign in Côte d'Ivoire in an attempt to reduce negative public sentiments towards Liberians.
High Commissioner Lubbers first raised these concerns when he visited Liberia as part of a five-nation West Africa mission in May. He had urged the warring parties to co-operate with the International Contact Group's efforts towards a ceasefire, and for Liberian President Charles Taylor to step down.
The refugee agency chief had also stressed that an international peacekeeping force should be deployed to fill the current security vacuum in Liberia, saying that even humanitarian workers - normally opposed to military intervention - saw it as the only way to stop the brutal civil war.
Clarifying the proposal, UNHCR's Redmond said, "The High Commissioner believes that whether the force is in the form of an expanded UNAMSIL mandate from neighbouring Sierra Leone, under the leadership of a UN Security Council member state or through some other arrangement, something needs to be done now to stop the killing and end the suffering of Liberia's people."