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Dire situation as rebels move on Liberia's capital

'Dire situation' unfolding as rebels move on Liberia's capital, UN agencies warn

Forced to evacuate staff and suspend deliveries of desperately needed medical and health supplies, United Nations relief agencies in Liberia warned that a "dire humanitarian situation" is unfolding as rebel forces close in on the capital, Monrovia.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was forced to evacuate its three remaining international staff yesterday, after the situation descended into chaos over the weekend when deadly skirmishes between government forces and the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) reached the suburbs and refugee camps dotting the outskirts of Liberia's besieged capital city. UNHCR said it is very concerned about its national staff and their families living in Monrovia, as well as the fate of some 15,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in the area.

Other agencies are also struggling to cope with Monrovia's influx of displaced persons. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as of yesterday, the Government had registered some 5,000 internally displaced persons at the national stadium. Local staff of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are working to supply the people at the sports complex with high-protein biscuits, water and sanitation facilities, and shelter materials.

Meanwhile, amid the panic sparked by the resurgence in fighting, the price of petrol and rice - where and when they are available - is reported to have more than doubled in Monrovia. The World Food Programme (WFP), which had been forced to suspend deliveries to perhaps 115,000 displaced persons in camps around the capital, has called on the warring parties to rapidly open humanitarian corridors so that aid could be delivered. The Liberian Red Cross has been distributing blankets, mats and jerry cans to displaced persons sheltering at schools in the city centre.

For its part, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has warned that conflict in the region was worsening an already immense humanitarian crisis, with devastating health consequences for women and girls, in particular.

"Health care is virtually non-existent," said UNFPA's representative in Liberia, Deji Popoola. "Even in the few places where public services are functioning, teachers, nurses and other public sector employees have not been paid for 15 months."

The health crisis is exacerbated by the inability of international humanitarian agencies to gain access to more than 80 per cent of Liberia's territory. The agencies implored the international community, and other parties to take urgent action to address the mounting disaster.

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