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UN help avert humanitarian crisis in Monrovia

Liberia: As peacekeepers arrive, UN gears up to help avert humanitarian crisis in Monrovia

With the first contingent of Nigerian peacekeepers now on the ground in Liberia, United Nations and other relief agencies are taking advantage of a lull in the violence to rush food and medical supplies to hundreds of thousands of desperate and hungry people crowding the streets of war-ravaged Monrovia.

With the support of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), the airlift of Nigerian troops and equipment – the vanguard elements of the Multinational Force authorized last Friday by the Security Council – continued today. Following the arrival of 184 troops yesterday, UNAMSIL said that by mid-afternoon today, 152 more Nigerian soldiers, two Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), one land rover and one day’s supply of rations had been moved from Sierra Leone to Liberia.

More troops are expected in the coming days as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leads the efforts on the ground to enforce a cease-fire and clear the way for the distribution of food and medicine to hundreds of thousands of people uprooted by fighting between forces loyal to President Charles Taylor and rebel factions, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy and Elections in Liberia (MODEL).

UN agencies have welcomed the arrival of the peacekeepers in the hope that the deployment will enable the return of aid workers and help stave off the deepening humanitarian crises in Monrovia, where hundreds of thousands of people, including a patchwork of refugees from Sierra Leone and internally displaced persons (IDPs), are living in the streets without adequate food, shelter or sanitation.

The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) said today that it is gearing up to resume operations and aid distribution, and will return some international staff to Liberia. It is also ready to begin repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees from Monrovia to Freetown. UNHCR had been forced to call off its emergency evacuation programme – which had returned some 1,250 Sierra Leonean refugees home on the ship MV Overbeck since early July – almost two weeks ago, when fighting intensified around Monrovia’s chief ports.

Today, UNHCR said the Overbeck, is currently docked in Freetown, where it is being loaded with trucks, light vehicles, fuel, blankets and other relief items. The agency's emergency staff will sail to Monrovia with this aid convoy as soon as the UN security team gives its clearance. The ship will then return to Freetown with 300 Sierra Leonean refugees who had registered for emergency evacuation before the operation was interrupted by the fighting.

Another ship chartered by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) is scheduled to leave Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, with supplies and staff from WFP, the UN Children's Fund, Oxfam and UNHCR tonight. It will be docked off the port in Monrovia pending security clearance. The WFP ship is also carrying three metric tons of high-energy biscuits – enough to feed some 25,000 people – as well as communications and logistics equipment.

In another sign of hope for the people of Liberia, the UN will launch a Revised Humanitarian Appeal for the country tomorrow morning in New York. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Liberia, Jacques Klein, will deliver opening remarks at the launch. The original 2003 Consolidated Appeal for Liberia, launched in November 2002 has received less than 22 per cent of the more than $42 million requested.

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