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UN: Situation in Ivory Coast, Neighboring Countries Deteriorating

U.N. aid agencies say the humanitarian situation in Ivory Coast is deteriorating and the ongoing conflict is increasing instability in the region. A top U.N. official who has just returned from the Ivory Coast says the peace process is holding, but it is very slow.

Carolyn McAskie, United Nations humanitarian envoy for the crisis in Ivory Coast says that behind the cease-fire lines, none of the government or private services is working. She says many areas in the west continue to remain off limits to aid workers.

Ms. McAskie said the situation in Ivory Coast has become more fragile since the assassination last Friday of Sergeant Felix Doh, the leader of the Ivorian Popular Movement. But, she said, the rebel group is determined to keep the lid on various splinter groups in the West.

"They are very much trying to stay in control," she explained. "They are sort of putting themselves up as the force of respectability, the nouvelle force [new force]. They confirmed to us, and we have reason to believe, that this in fact is correct, that from that particular sector in the west, they have chased the Liberians out. And so my sense is that they are serious."

The United Nations estimates thousands of people have been killed in Ivory Coast's civil war, and more than one million have been made homeless.

The director of emergency operations for the U.N. Children's Fund, Niels Karlsberg, says health problems and malnutrition rates are rising among children because of the lack of basic services. He notes more than one-half million children have not been able to go to school since September, when the war broke out.

He also said UNICEF is engaged in vitally important protection work.

"You are well aware of the UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] work of protection as it relates to the refugees," said Mr. Karlsberg. "We are also looking at the protection against the recruitment of children into various forms of irregular forces and rebel movement. As you know, we even have, in some places, gangs of children that have become like mercenaries from years of having grown up in this type of circle of violence. And, there is a lot of widespread sexual exploitation of women and children."

In November, the United Nations appealed for nearly $86 million to provide humanitarian assistance to Ivory Coast as well as neighboring Liberia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mali and Ghana.

Forty percent of the appeal has been received; enough to begin some programs. But, as Carolyn McAskie says, not enough to meet the critical needs of these countries.