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UN Readies Liberia Relief Operation - 2003-08-12


The United Nations is getting ready for a massive humanitarian operation in Liberia now that former President Charles Taylor has gone into exile. The U.N. has sent a team of high level officials to Monrovia to assess the humanitarian situation.

The 11 senior U.N. officials will be joining a team of emergency aid officers who arrived in Monrovia Monday. This is the first time U.N. foreign staff have set foot in Liberia since the U.N. evacuated its personnel June 10.

A spokeswoman says the U.N. team hopes to meet with representatives of the American and West African peacekeeping forces and with Liberian government officials. Its main aim is to ensure free and speedy access to victims of the civil conflict.

A spokeswoman for the World Food Program, Christiane Berthiaume, says the agency has food stocks in Monrovia and in neighboring countries, which can be distributed as soon as the United Nations gives the authorization.

"We are really ready to beef up our operation when the security will be there and we have all the plans to help people," said Ms. Berthiaume. "This is going to be a major and huge humanitarian operation because the need for food is so great."

Other U.N. agencies are also gearing up to assist the Liberian people. The World Health Organization is sending in experts in disease control. It also will be contributing essential medicines.

On Wednesday, the U.N. refugee agency is sending a plane with two international emergency staff into Monrovia. The plane also will carry urgent supplies, such as fuel and equipment needed for its activities.

The United Nations Children's Fund says its priority is the protection of children. UNICEF Spokesman Damien Personnaz says aid workers in Monrovia describe the situation of children there as appalling.

"The situation there is actually the worst they have ever seen in their entire professional life," said Mr. Personnaz. "One of the reasons is not only because of the violence of the fighting, but also the fact that these children do not have any community or any family to protect them. And, especially the fact that they have been displaced for so many years within the country, but also outside the country."

Mr. Personnaz says UNICEF protection officers who specialize in caring for traumatized children will go to Monrovia. He says one of their jobs will be to counsel the thousands of children who have been recruited as soldiers by all of the warring factions.

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