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Talks to bolster transition in Liberia underway

Diplomatic talks to bolster transition in Liberia underway - UN

While talks aimed at shaping United Nations support for Liberia's transitional government got underway today in the capital Monrovia, the country's interior remains gripped by rumours of fresh rebel violence, forcing relief agencies to scale back operations in camps and along roadsides where anxious families await desperately needed aid.

According to a UN spokesman in New York, an eight-member advance team of the Government of Liberia's Transition Committee visited UN offices in Monrovia to confer on preparations for the installation of the new government on 14 October.

On 18 August, Liberia's government and the country's main rebel factions signed a peace deal that set up an interim power-sharing government that paves the way for democratic elections in 2005. The top UN envoy for Liberia, Jacques Paul Klein, is in New York this week to ask the Security Council to authorize some 15,000 troops and 900 international police officers for a proposed UN peacekeeping mission to support the transition.

Discussions in the Liberian capital centred on ways the transitional government and the UN could work in partnership once the Council has approved a mandate for a new peacekeeping mission. Both sides reportedly emphasized the need to establish conditions of security in the country.

Meanwhile, UN agencies in the field reported that widespread lawlessness and alarming rumours continue to fuel displacement in the countryside. The lack of security, law and order in many parts of Liberia are still hampering humanitarian operations in Liberia, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Despite these constraints, the agency said aid workers continued to work where they could.

Following last week's huge displacement along the Totota to Salala road, northeast of Monrovia, some of the relief materials sent by UNHCR trucks were distributed last Friday by the Lutheran World Federation. In Buchanan, the port city southeast of the capital, security was reported to be seriously deteriorating and so far, no agencies had been able to do any large-scale food or non-food distribution.

UNHCR said it has also received worrying reports that people in the Harper area and elsewhere in eastern Liberia may have suffered from various forms of harassment and sexual violence. The local staff who crossed over to Harper reported that everything there and the border town of Plebo, down to the doors and window frames, had been looted by the fighters. Whatever had not been looted was destroyed.

Troops from Guinea-Bissau serving with the West African force known as ECOMIL began moving towards Kakata - another site of major population displacements - and UNHCR officials said they hoped the deployment would help bring some desperately needed stability and security to the region. Another joint UN mission, including UNHCR staff, heads to the region on Tuesday.

UNHCR also said that it is growing increasingly concerned about the fate of thousands of Ivoirian refugees scattered along Liberia's eastern border with Côte d'Ivoire. The refugee agency is exploring possible ways of accessing this part of Liberia with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

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