Over 15,000 Flee Bong Mines As Pariah Status Affects Humanitarian Help

20 February 2002

Rebels of the Liberians United for Democracy have attacked the once mining town of Bong Mines, with Government troops admitting their inability to stop herds of people moving towards other areas closer to the capital. Over 15,000 are said to be on the move for Kakata, Monrovia. The BBC further reported mass movement from the central town of Gbarnga into Kakata. The Boker Washington Institute has been closed down and students sent home.

The Government says it has regained control of Bong Mines, although it did not say when it was captured. Defence Minister Daniel Tuesday called the BBC to discount rebels gains. He said he was speaking from Bong Mines. Combat troops are now in Kakata waiting for instructions, but the government says its troops already combing the area and that the rebels have retreated in the surrounding forest. However, in their press release, the rebels say they are “firm” control over their captured territory. But the government’s policy of shielding the displaced from the city is falling apart in view of the large numbers of people fleeing.

The Organisation of African Unity has appointed an emissary to find a negotiated settlement, but the Government has ruled out talks just as the rebels are demanding the exit of Taylor as the basis for talks.

"I don't know on what basis would anyone . . . even suggest that this government opens dialogue with the terrorist . . . because that's basically what they are... we do not know of a political agenda. We do not know of any particular territory that they are holding. We do know . . . they are roving around the country, destroying everything in their path, scavenging for food and giving the impression that they are a credible force. Of course our young people are dying in the process but nevertheless, they have been exposed," Information Minister Reginald Goodridge says.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation is worsening, and the UN says it needs US17m to avert the catastrophe. U.N. assistant emergency coordinator Ross Mountain said fighting between government troops and rebels had displaced some 60,000 people, but international help had been lacklustre.Liberia’s financial and resource needs are hampered by the Government’s pariah status even as fighting is spreading, a UN official says.

"We recognise some countries are not on the best terms with the government of Liberia but what we are talking about here is support for the Liberian people, irrespective of political considerations," Mountain told Reuters in Abidjan on his way back from Liberia.

"These are people who have been displaced not once but many times. They possess only what they can carry on their heads. Many have been separated from their husbands, wives, kids. There are numerous cases of children missing," he told the Reuters news agency.

The UN requested US60m for Sierra Leone, receiving about 80% of the money. But sympathy for the government has been diluted by government’s polices, regional intervention and corruption. Mr. Martin said people are "scattered in all directions" since the fighting began.

© Robert W. Kranz  23-02-2002