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Displaced Persons Camps Liberia's New Battlefields


Camps for displaced persons now Liberia's 'new battlefields' -UN

Camps for internally displaced persons (IDP) have become the new battlefields in Liberia - where warring parties now compete with desperate families for the meagre resources provided by relief agencies - and thousands of people fleeing the country's tense north-eastern region are pleading for improved security and emergency aid, the United Nations said today.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the plea for help from some 50,000 exhausted and hungry IDPs camped in and around Salala also underscored the importance of the deployment of the proposed UN peacekeeping operation in Liberia.

"Ensuring the safety of civilians receiving assistance is particularly challenging. In some cases, where a permanent security presence is absent, IDPs have discouraged the distribution of food, out of fear of being attacked and looted by combatants, despite their acute food needs," said Ross Mountain, UN Special Humanitarian Coordinator.

Word of a major outbreak in fighting between government and rebel forces intensified over the weekend and is believed to have now emptied out several nearby towns, including Totota and Kakata, creating a mass exodus of IDPs towards the capital, Monrovia, some 120 kilometres away.

The rumours of new fighting and the sound of distant shelling set nearly 60,000 people on the march last week, and though many have stopped briefly in Salala, UN agencies fear battle-scarred, overcrowded Monrovia cannot absorb a new influx of IDPs.

"The deployment of ECOMIL up-country will be a major factor in providing a secure environment and boosting the ability and confidence of humanitarian agencies to deliver vital assistance that does not place vulnerable populations, and humanitarian workers, in jeopardy," Mr. Mountain added, referring to the West African forces deployed to maintain a ceasefire.

An inter-agency assessment mission including OCHA, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) visited Salala and nearby Falala on Saturday. Members of the mission team, in consultation with non-governmental organization (NGO) partners, were able to reaffirm that after the vital need for security, the urgent humanitarian needs of the IDPs included the provision of basic shelter, access to potable water and food aid.

Despite the serious difficulties in the camps, "We are making inroads," Mr Mountain said. Now humanitarian operations have resumed in Monrovia and outside the three axes, namely in rebel-controlled Tubmanburg in Bomi County, along the Kakata-Salala-Totota corridor in Margibi, and towards Buchanan in Grand Bassa County, also controlled by rebels. In these areas, relief agencies have begun to deliver much-needed assistance. Cross border missions are also scheduled from Côte d'Ivoire and Sierra Leone.

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