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Refugees Flee Liberia Fighting - 2002-02-15

United Nations agencies say people are continuing to stream out of areas of heavy fighting between rebel and government forces in Liberia.

The World Food Program, WFP, says the number of Liberians fleeing the fighting is enormous. About 15,000 people have sought refuge in Monrovia, the capital, over the past week, while camps for the displaced in Bong County, north of Monrovia, now are housing 30,000 people.

WFP spokeswoman Christiane Bertiaume has said the organization is providing emergency food aid to those in Monrovia and parts of Bong County. But Ms. Bertiaume has warned that there are thousands more people who are impossible to reach because of the fighting.

"We are very concerned about the people that we cannot reach. And obviously all these people that arrive are frightened to death. I mean, they have gone through hell in the nineties and they are really very scared that the nightmare is starting again," she said.

In the 1990s, about 200,000 Liberians were killed in a civil war that lasted seven years. The war ended in 1997, when Charles Taylor, the current president, was first elected.

The rebels, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, launched their revolt against the Taylor government two years ago in northern Liberia. In recent weeks, they have been moving south, closer to the capital.

Liberians aren't the only ones fleeing the fighting. Thousands of refugees from neighboring Sierra Leone are in Liberia, having fled their country's civil war. But last month both sides in Sierra Leone's civil war agreed to lay down their weapons, and many Sierra Leonean refugees now want to go back home.

Chris Janowski of the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, has said the latest fighting has sent Liberians as well as Sierra Leoneans across the border to refugee camps inside Sierra Leone.

"What the recent fight caused is it caused more people to go into those camps. And also more people to spontaneously go back to Sierra Leone and converge in the border area of Sierra Leone from which they are being taken further inland," he said.

The UNHCR has said, in the past week, more than 5,000 Sierra Leonean refugees who had fled their own country's civil war have returned home. The agency also says 3,000 Liberians have gone into Sierra Leone.