Liberia: 10,000 cross into Côte d'Ivoire
Fearing rebel attacks, more than 10,000 people, primarily Liberians, have crossed from southern Liberia into neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire over the past 72 hours, UNHCR staff reported today.
According to sketchy reports from NGOs, refugees and UNHCR staff on the border, Harper, the main town in Liberia's south-eastern Maryland County, was taken on Monday morning by members of the recently formed Liberian rebel movement, MODEL (Movement for Democracy in Liberia).
Hundreds of civilians began fleeing southern Liberia late last week following reports of the alleged torture by unknown attackers on Thursday of an official in River Gee County, which neighbours Maryland County. Over the weekend, UNHCR's office in Tabou, Côte d'Ivoire, received reports of increasing numbers of arrivals around Prollo, Pato Ide and other border crossing points. UNHCR teams sent to the border found many frightened civilians who had fled Liberia in a hurry. They said they left after hearing rumours that the rebels were approaching. None had seen any fighting, however. They crossed the Cavaly River into Côte d'Ivoire by boat.
Border monitors reported that gunfire was heard overnight Sunday and Monday morning on the Liberian side of the border, near the town of Pleebo. UNHCR and its partners are monitoring the border and providing transport to some of the new arrivals, about 750 of whom have been taken to a transit centre in the Ivorian town of Tabou. Most of the estimated 10,000 new arrivals are staying in surrounding villages, however.
UNHCR is appealing to the rebels to protect the civilian population, including the large number of refugees and third country nationals who had previously found refuge in Harper after fleeing the crisis in Côte d'Ivoire.
The new refugee influx into Côte d'Ivoire occurred as High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers was concluding an eight-day, five-nation tour of West Africa. He returned to Geneva yesterday.