UNHCR urges Ivory Coast govt to stop recruiting Liberians into army
©2003 Agence France Press (AFP)
GENEVA, Jan 10 (AFP) - The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has urged the
government of Ivory Coast to stop recruiting Liberian refugees into the
ranks of loyalist forces, a UNHCR spokesman said on Friday.
Kris Janowski, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said
the agency had written to the Ivorian government after "persistent reports"
that it was recruiting refugees to the army, although they had no exact
figures of how many had been enrolled.
"It's not a question of mercenaries -- it's basically the government
recruiting people to fight in the loyalist military, not as mercenaries,
but basically as soldiers," he told reporters.
He said it was "certainly against various parts of international refugee
law to recruit refugees to fight in national armies".
And he said the move compounded other problems facing tens of thousands of
Liberian refugees in war-torn Ivory Coast, including harassment and
intimidation at checkpoints.
In the letter to the Ivorian government, the Geneva-based UN agency also
appealed for the authorities to instruct Ivorian youth groups controlling
checkpoints to allow Liberians fleeing the four- month-old conflict to pass
"We essentially think that the government should do more to dispel the
notion, which is increasingly commonplace in Ivory Coast, that all
Liberians are somehow linked to the rebellion, because in fact they are
not," Janowski told reporters.
Liberian refugees are particularly vulnerable in Ivory Coast, having
already fled a conflict in their own country, UNHCR said.
"I'm not saying they were forced into recruitment, but even if they were
not forced, it's, from our point of view, questionable," Janowski said.
"These people are terrified, they are nervous about what's going on, so
completely voluntary decision under these circumstances is virtually
impossible," he said.
UNHCR also said there were reports of "large population movements" out of
Tabou, on the southwestern coast, this week after rebels took control of
the nearby town of Grabo.
Hundreds of Liberian refugees took shelter in a UNHCR compound and a
Catholic mission, while more than 6,000 Liberians also fled back to
Liberia, it said.
Talks are due to take place next week in Paris to try to end the conflict
between rebel groups and government forces, which broke out on September 19.
AFP-Jan 10, 2003