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Police Arrest Angry Liberian Refugees in Ghana

Police in Ghana have arrested Liberian refugees who were leading protests at a camp outside the capital Accra. The refugees had refused to stop their month-long demonstration against a U.N.-funded repatriation program. VOA's Nico Colombant has more, with reporting by Ruby Amable from Ghana.

Police say they arrested about 200 refugees and that they were being processed for court action.

They said they were being held at a police location in Agomeda, in the east of the country, after they were moved there following a police operation.

Meanwhile, residents outside the Buduburam camp near Accra where the protest was taking place said police had cordoned off the area.

For the past four weeks, Liberian mothers and children sat outside on small pieces of foam and thin mats on a football field just outside their camp, about an hour's drive north of the capital, Accra.

Police and Ghanaian government officials said this was unacceptable, and that the refugees were violating public order. They said they were causing traffic and public disturbances.

The Liberians are against what is being called a voluntary repatriation program, which is set to expire at the end of June. Ghanaian officials say the Liberians will lose their refugee status and become illegal aliens if they stay in Ghana.

The refugees are being offered a free trip and $100 by the U.N. refugee agency to resettle in Liberia, but they say it is not enough.

They are also afraid.

Some of them, like Elvira Cheady, says that since she is from the same ethnic group as Liberia's former military ruler, Samuel Doe, she feels she will be persecuted.

One of her friends explains what exactly she is trying to say.

"She says she cannot go back home because she is from the Doe regime and the Doe regime are the people that they are looking for," she said. "They are the hunted people so she cannot return to Liberia, while she knows that they will locate her, and they will hunt her, so it is her fear."

Madison Gwoin acted as a spokesman for the protesters. Just before the police operation, he said Liberian refugees would rather be sent to another country.

"We feel that countries are out there, by the grace of God, in this Liberian context, that will see reason to open their corridors for resettlement," said Gwoin.

Another refugee, Sarah Mayson, said she feels long-time refugees should be getting more help, including jobs and schooling in another country.

"We sit here and sell cold water," said Mayson. "We have to sell peanuts to make ends meet. So I think we should be resettled to a third country where we will be able to work and go to school, to prepare our children for tomorrow. A lot of us came here in our early 20s and we are now in our 40s, some of us are in our 50s and 60s, and nothing has been done."

Officials from Ghana's government refugee board say 40,000 Liberian refugees remain in the country, and that very few have left since the end of the Liberian civil war in 2003.

UNHCR officials have said large-scale resettlement outside Liberia is not an option, and that these refugees should make an effort in helping rebuild their country.