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UNHCR Appeals for End of Liberian Refugee Recruitment by Ivory Coast - 2003-01-10

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, is calling on the Ivorian government to stop recruiting Liberian refugees into the army. The recruitment is just the latest in a series of problems the Ivorian civil war is causing for the country's Liberian residents.

The U.N. refugee agency says Liberians in Ivory Coast face pressure from both sides in the civil war.

The agency says Ivorians who support the government are hostile toward the Liberians because they are seen as supporting the rebels. But at the same time, the agency says, the Liberian refugees are not welcome in rebel-held areas, where they are seen as potential government sympathizers.

Now, the UNHCR says, the Ivorian government is trying to recruit Liberian refugees into the army.

The UNHCR says the recruitment of refugees into national armies violates international refugee law. And spokesman Kris Janowski says, the agency wants the Ivory Coast government to stop doing it, and also to take steps to ease the persecution of Liberians by government supporters. "We have sent a letter to the government of Cote d'Ivoire asking them to stop recruiting Liberian refugees to fight in loyalist forces in Cote d'Ivoire," said Kris Janowski. "At the same time, we have asked them to do more to dispel the notion that all Liberians are somehow rebels, and to do something about their plight."

Since the Ivorian civil war spread to the western part of the country in mid-November, the UNHCR estimates nearly 60,000 Liberian refugees and Ivorians have fled to Liberia. The agency says it is strengthening its emergency operations to assist the new arrivals and transport them to safety.

But spokesman Janowski says many of the Liberians cannot return to Liberia, because they oppose the government. So, they are left in Ivory Coast in an increasingly difficult situation.