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Intense Fighting in Liberia Forces Some to Flee - 2002-05-10

The United Nations refugee agency has said it is concerned about the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Liberia, where an insurrection that began three years ago is intensifying. On Friday, the Liberian military said rebels had gained control of part of a government stronghold east of Monrovia.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, has said the intense fighting in Liberia is forcing many people to flee for safety.

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said the agency has been providing humanitarian assistance to those displaced by the conflict, but the quick advance of rebel troops into some areas means the agency cannot reach all the people who need help.

"This week there has been fighting occurring near the town of Gbarnga, which is in the northeast part of the country in a place called Bong County. People are reportedly fleeing the area in large numbers but because of the insecure situation, we have not been able to get a firm fix on what exactly is happening up there," Mr. Redmond said.

Meanwhile, the UNHCR also reported instability in Senegal ahead of Sunday's municipal elections. Mr. Redmond said an attack on a government electoral convoy this week has sparked fighting and sent thousands of people fleeing, many of them into neighboring Gambia.

"We have seen up to 2,000 new refugees from the Casamance region in Senegal who have arrived in southern Gambia over the past few days. This has been sparked by fighting by the Casamance Democratic Forces Movement, which is a separatist movement which has been waging a struggle in that part of Senegal since the early 1980's. It is a sporadic conflict. It rises and ebbs and flows," Mr. Redmond said.

UNHCR said it is sending a team Friday to the border between Senegal and Gambia to get a better idea of what assistance is needed for the refugees.