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UNHCR Says Liberia Has Descended Into Chaos - 2003-06-10

The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, says, “The situation in Liberia descended into chaos over the weekend.” This is due to fighting between government troops and rebels.

The agency evacuated the last three international staff members yesterday “with the help of French troops stationed on a ship off the coast.” However, the status of more than thirty national staff and their families in Monrovia is unclear.

UNHCR spokeswoman Delphine Marie says, “Information is getting increasingly difficult to get.” She says the agency is “particularly worried” about 15-thousand Sierra Leonean refugees who were directly under UNHCR care. They were staying in camps outside Monrovia, but are now apparently traveling with the local population.

So far, there are no indications of a mass movement toward the Ivory Coast border. But Ms. Marie says the UN agency is making preparations in the event that happens. These include talking with the local Ivorian population about a new influx of Liberian refugees. There’s been tension over the placement of Liberians. Some communities have rejected them, accusing the Liberians of supporting one side or the other in the recent Ivory Coast conflict.

Ms. Marie says it’s possible that a refugee camp will have to be set up for Liberians, and she says eastern Liberia remains “a major concern.” Contact in the area has been minimal due to rebel activity. The UNHCR is calling for a political solution to the conflict and has given its support to ECOWAS-sponsored peace talks in Ghana.

Also, the head of the UNHCR, Ruud Lubbers, is calling for UN peacekeepers to be sent to Liberia.

Delphine Marie spoke with English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua.