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Thousands of Liberians Seek Refuge as Fighting Intensifies - 2003-06-10


Thousands of Liberians and foreigners are fleeing Monrovia as peace efforts fail to end escalated fighting around the capital.

An estimated 20,000 Liberians have sought refuge at the Samuel Doe sports stadium on the southeastern outskirts of the capital. They are trying to flee a rebel offensive that has come mainly from the north and the west of the city.

Monday, French soldiers evacuated more than 500 foreign nationals from Monrovia, mainly Europeans, Americans and Lebanese, putting them on a boat to Ivory Coast.

Ghana said it is sending a warship and several aircraft to Liberia to remove its nationals from Monrovia, where food has become very costly and difficult to find.

Almost all foreign aid workers have left Liberia. Those remaining are just a small team from the International Red Cross and three Europeans working for the Belgian chapter of Doctors without Borders.

Erwin Vantland, who is helping coordinate the team from headquarters in Brussels, said several clinics are still operating, but that hospitals are overrun with wounded from the fighting and other problems.

"We know that the needs in the hospitals are quite high. One of two hospitals that we support was looted on Saturday so it needs urgent supplies. [At] Redemption Hospital, which is the only major public hospital in the city, people have been continuing to work, but without any source of energy - no electricity, no water. It is getting pretty dire overall. We are quite keen to use the bit of space that is still left for humanitarian assistance to assist as many people as possible," he explained.

Meanwhile, peace mediators gathered in the Ghanaian town of Akosombo said they hope talks to end the four year civil war will be able to resume there Wednesday. Envoys for the two rebel groups, LURD and MODEL, are now present as well as representatives for the Liberian government, but the escalated fighting around Monrovia in recent days has slowed the start of the talks.

West African mediation efforts are also taking place in Guinea, where some rebel leaders are based, and in Liberia.

Rebels, who now control more than two-thirds of Liberia, including areas just a few kilometers from Monrovia's city center, are calling for Liberian President Charles Taylor to step down immediately.

Monday, the U.N. Security Council called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Liberia. In Washington, the State Department called for combatants in the war to spare civilians or face international law.

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