From: UN New York, June 06 2003 05:00PM
© UN News Centre at http://www.un.org/news

As fighting continues to rage in and around the capital city of Liberia, United Nations relief agencies are struggling against pounding rains to help thousands of terrified civilians driven from their homes in search of safe haven in western Côte d’Ivoire.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the continuing conflict in Liberia has displaced tens of thousands of refugees and locals near Monrovia, and sent more than 23,000 Liberians fleeing into western Côte d'Ivoire in the last two weeks. Poor weather conditions are making aid efforts all the more difficult.

Yesterday, UNHCR staff in Liberia reported that resurgent fighting between the Government and the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) near Monrovia had spread to camps that hosted Sierra Leonean refugees. Nearby, the sprawling camps for internally displaced Liberians were also affected. The camps were deserted, and tens of thousands of refugees and displaced people were seen seeking refuge in various locations in Monrovia. Some of the agency’s local staff were also displaced from their homes.

As the conflict rages in eastern Liberia, UNHCR has learned that a group of 1,000 Ivoirian refugees who had earlier fled their country's civil war for Harper in south-eastern Liberia are now asking for help to return home. The Ivoirian army is exploring ways to escort them along the 18-kilometre stretch of road to the border crossing at Prollo, and then across the river in dugout boats. About 1,000 Malian and Burkina Faso nationals are also believed to be stuck in Harper.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) said security conditions were deteriorating daily in Liberia. The agency reported that without any peaceful solution, there would continue to be large numbers of people becoming displaced inside the country, and there would also be Liberians moving into neighbouring countries.

The fighting had stopped WFP from distributing food to the 115,000 displaced persons in camps around Monrovia. To date, 70 per cent of the country was inaccessible to humanitarian organizations because of the intense fighting.

added by: Robert W. Kranz  June-2003