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UN Calls for Release of Abducted Nurses in Liberia - 2002-06-21

The United Nations refugee agency is calling for the immediate release of five nurses abducted by Liberian rebels from a refugee camp Thursday. UNHCR said the camp had been cut off from aid for the past three weeks because of intense fighting between rebel forces and government troops loyal to President Charles Taylor.

UNHCR officials said the Sinje refugee camp, 80 kilometers northeast of the Liberian capital, Monrovia, was attacked by rebels early Thursday. Refugee agency spokesman Kris Janowski said about 60 local aid workers, but no UNHCR staff were in the camp at the time.

"Rebels from a group which calls itself Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy attacked the Sinje refugee camp in Liberia close to the Sierra Leone border abducting five local nurses and sending the entire camp population into flight. It includes about 11,000 Sierra Leone refugees plus some Liberians who have also sought refuge in the camp," Mr. Janowski said.

Mr. Janowski said the rebels also stole UNHCR equipment, including an ambulance and a radio, which they used to contact UNHCR on the nurse's whereabouts. "A commander who introduced himself as 'General Skeleton' told us that they were holding the nurses and that the nurses were fine and they were taking them to the rebel stronghold of Voinjama near the Guinean border. One of the nurses was allowed to speak on the radio and actually said that they were being treated well. UNHCR needless to say is urging the rebels to immediately release the workers and the vehicle," he said.

UNHCR said the fighting has complicated its efforts to repatriate tens of thousands of Sierra Leoneans and has also sent 10,000 Liberians fleeing for shelter to neighboring Guinea.