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UNHCR may resume work in eastern Liberia soon

UNHCR may resume work in eastern Liberia soon

The UN refugee agency has said that it hopes to resume operations in eastern Liberia as soon as possible. This comes amid a series of assessment missions to the region that has been cut off from humanitarian aid since March.
16 September 2003

MONROVIA, Liberia, Sept 16 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency could soon be resuming gradual operations in eastern Liberia following a series of assessment missions to the region where rebel fighting has shut out humanitarian aid since March.

UNHCR has been leading a number of missions to various parts of Liberia in recent days. On Sunday and Monday, a UN team visited Harper, Pleebo and Fish Town in south-eastern Liberia. There, they found mixed scenarios - widespread looting and desolation in Harper town, and life as usual in Pleebo and Fish Town.

Overall, there seemed to be relative calm in the area, where tens of thousands of Liberians, Ivorian refugees and other West African nationals had been displaced by fighting between government and MODEL (Movement for Democracy in Liberia) troops in March. Many humanitarian agencies had also been forced to pull out after the killing of three aid workers in late February and the series of attacks that followed.

In Saclepea, north-eastern Liberia, UNHCR has been in contact with security guards looking after its office and transit site. They reported some 1,000 people still at the transit site - mostly Ivorians, with some Liberians and other West African nationals. Up until recently, the town, which lies in the middle of two rebel zones, had not been attacked or looted. But in recent days, looters have hit the warehouse, taking food and agricultural tools meant for the refugees and displaced people.

Another inter-agency mission has been planned for Zwedru in eastern Liberia. The team is scheduled to leave this weekend for Côte d'Ivoire, from where they hope to enter Zwedru, not far from the Ivorian border.

UNHCR has established working relations with rebel authorities in various parts of Liberia to ensure safe access and passage for humanitarian agencies, but exploratory missions and other aid activities have been hampered by poor road conditions during the rainy season.

"Access by road to many parts of Liberia is now our biggest problem," said UNHCR's Representative in Liberia, Moses Okello. "It has been raining cats and dogs here."

On Tuesday, a UNHCR team left Monrovia for Bo Waterside, near the border with Sierra Leone, to assess reconstruction needs for roads to facilitate the land repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia. The refugee agency will also join an inter-agency team to Gbarnga, west of Saclepea, on Thursday.

Meanwhile, decongestion continues in Monrovia. On Monday, some 720 internally displaced people (IDPs) were moved from the overcrowded capital to seven IDP camps. Another 400 are scheduled to follow on Tuesday.

Most people who had fled fighting two weeks ago in Totota, a town north-east of Monrovia, have now been assisted to return to their original camp.