Thousands Flee Fighting, Reach Border Town

February 12, 2002

ABIDJAN, 12 Feb 2002 (IRIN) - At least 5,000 Sierra Leoneans and Liberians arrived at the border town of Jendema, after fleeing fighting between Liberian government troops and dissidents, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, reported on Monday.

UNHCR had registered some 3,000 Liberian refugees and more than 2,000 Sierra Leonean returnees by mid-morning Monday, the agency said. "Some of the Liberian refugees have gone into nearby villages on the Sierra Leone side of the border, others are awaiting transportation to the Jimmi Bargbo refugee camp some 350 km away," it added.

Many of the Sierra Leoneans are from the Sinje refugee camps in Liberia, 20 km from Klay junction, the scene of the latest fighting, the agency reported. It said it was concerned about Sierra Leonean refugees still trapped at two Sinje camps. The arriving refugees have asked UNHCR to help them return to their home villages in Kailahun, northeast Sierra Leone. "Refugees from villages close to Jendema made their own way back," the agency reported.

The agency had sent 10 trucks to transfer the Liberians from Jendema and has asked for more to transfer the Sierra Leonean returnees to their homes. "The additional transfers are likely to begin Tuesday," it reported.

Some of the Sierra Leoneans told UNHCR that they fled the Sinje camps, which house some 15,000 refugees, because they feared rebel harassment. The majority of people arriving in Sierra Leone were in generally good physical condition, the agency reported, many having fled with some of their belongings and food. However, the agency said it had received reports of children being separated from their families.

The dissidents, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, are trying to unseat the government of President Charles Taylor. They attacked Klay Junction, a small crossroads settlement, some 47 km north of Monrovia, last week. It was the closest the fighting has come to the capital since the seven-year civil war - in which some 200,000 people died - ended in 1997.