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UN Official to Assess Plight of Refugees in West Africa - 2003-05-09

Ruud Lubbers, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, is heading to West Africa Saturday to see for himself the plight of 400,000 people displaced by wars in the region.

The High Commissioner's spokesman Ron Redmond says he will pay particular attention to Liberian refugees in western Ivory Coast. Tens of thousands of Liberians have been trapped between two civil wars: the one in Ivory Coast and the other in their home country.

"Those people are unable to go back to Liberia at the same time we believe that they have been subjected to military recruitment by various force," he said.. "They had a very difficult time with the local population in that area and we would like them to be transferred elsewhere. For several months, we've been seeking additional places or alternative places where they could be relocated at least for the time being and hopefully we will find a solution to that. "

Mr. Redmond says the visit will also focus on positive developments in the region, including the gradual reintegration of refugees returning to Sierra Leone, since the end of the civil war there in 2001.

High Commissioner Lubbers is returning to the region where he made his first official visit in 2001. He says it's important to refocus international attention on West Africa.

He arrives Saturday in Ivory Coast, on a trip that will also take him to Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.