From: UN New York, Feb 18 2003 4:00PM
© UN News Centre at

With large areas of western Liberia now reportedly in the hands of rebels, some 30,000 people driven from their homes are in a desperate attempt to reach the Liberian capital of Monrovia, and, according to the United Nations refugee agency, perhaps thousands more may be headed to neighbouring Sierra Leone.

The Liberian refugees fleeing to Sierra Leone will join about 6,000 others driven by fresh fighting over the past week, according to a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). "This has caused alarm in Sierra Leone, which is just recovering from a painful, decade-long war itself," Peter Kessler said in Geneva.

An inter-agency mission dispatched over the weekend reported that large areas of western Liberia have fallen under rebel control. "In Monrovia at the weekend, we had reports that the rebels have pushed to around 20 kilometres outside the city," said Mr. Kessler. "However, by yesterday, we were told that government forces had repulsed the rebels and the city was calm."

Mr. Kessler said however that events throughout the West African region had the agency worried. "In Côte d'Ivoire, our offices continue to receive desperate requests from some of the estimated 40,000 Liberian refugees in the area wanting to be evacuated to a safe area or moved to other countries in the region," he said, noting that yesterday's demonstration outside the agency's office in Abidjan marked the third such protest in a week.

Since the conflict broke out in Côte d'Ivoire five months ago, more than 88,000 people have left the country and gone into the eastern part of Liberia, where it is relatively quiet. They include Liberian returnees, Ivorian refugees and immigrant workers.

In other news from Africa, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has named Behrouz Sadry of Iran as his Deputy Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mr Sadry, who assumed his functions in Kinshasa on Monday, most recently served as the Secretary-General's Deputy Special Representative for Sierra Leone.

added by: Robert W. Kranz  February-2003