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Thousands Flee Liberia - 2002-07-02

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, says thousands of people have fled from Liberia to Sierra Leone after rebels attacked the Sinje refugee camp toward the end of June.

Sinje refugee camp is located about 80 kilometers northwest of the Liberian capital, Monrovia. It was attacked by rebels on June 20. Before the attack, about 24,000 people lived there, refugees from Sierra Leone as well as Liberians displaced from other parts of the country. Since the attack, the refugee agency says more than 8,500 people have left the camp and gone to Sierra Leone.

The agency says it believes thousands of other people who once lived in the camp have scattered into the nearby bush, while several hundred have made their way to Monrovia.

UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski says many of the refugees coming into Sierra Leone now are in need of special care. "There is an increase in the number of vulnerable cases, older people, sick people, pregnant women, unaccompanied children as well," he said. "Some of these people have had to actually be hospitalized."

Mr. Janowski says many of the refugees are suffering from malaria, diarrhea and acute respiratory infections. To date, the UNHCR has moved 4,000 people from the border area of Sierra Leone to refugee and resettlement sites in the interior of the country.

The fighting between rebel forces and those loyal to Liberian President Charles Taylor surged at the end of last year. Since then, the U.N. refugee agency estimates nearly 40,000 Liberians have fled to Sierra Leone.