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Liberians Flee to Guinea - 2002-05-15


The United Nations refugee UNHCR agency says it is concerned by reports that 3,500 Liberians have fled recently to Guinea.

UNHCR says this is the largest single movement of Liberian refugees into Guinea in years. And it says it fears as many as 10,000 more may follow this initial surge of asylum seekers with fighting continuing in the Liberian town of Gbarnga.

The refugee agency reports that nearly 300 Liberians have also sought shelter in neighboring Ivory Coast.

Millicent Mutuli of the UNHCR says no one ever knows when the next strike will be in Liberia's guerilla war and this is causing many to panic and flee. "There is a sense that there is movement of thousands of people in all directions, which is why we are seeing people showing up in Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea," she said. "But there are people also still showing up in Monrovia. We know that there are people going into refugee camps and some of the refugee camps have doubled in number. So there is a sense that there is still a lot of displacement."

Ms. Mutuli says Liberian refugees entering Guinea are still scattered in villages in the southeast of the country around Yomou. But she says the UNHCR is trying to set up more camps to accommodate the refugee influx. "Many of them say that a lot of men have been conscripted by rebel forces either as fighters or as carrier corps so you are seeing then more and more arrivals of women and children," she said.

Last week, fighting intensified between rebels and troops loyal to Liberian President Charles Taylor. Government troops say they managed to ward off rebels closing in on the capital, Monrovia, on Monday.

The rebels accuse Mr. Taylor of destabilizing West Africa. The U.N. Security Council has placed sanctions, including an arms embargo, on Liberia.