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Ivory Coast: UNHCR Tries to Move Liberian Refugees Away from Combat - 2002-12-20

A senior official with the U.N. refugee agency says plans are being made to move tens of thousands of Liberian refugees in Ivory Coast away from fighting between government and rebel forces.

The assistant U.N. high commissioner for refugees, Kamel Morjane, has just returned from a week-long visit to Ivory Coast and neighboring countries.

He says his most urgent task right now is to try to get between 50,000 and 60,000 Liberian refugees out of the combat zone in western Ivory Coast.

He says the U.N. refugee agency hopes to move the Liberians to a camp in the southern part of the country, away from the fighting. He says he has asked the French contingent stationed in the country for help in relocating them. "Nothing has been done yet, because we need a lot of preparation for that," he said. "We need a lot of authorization from different quarters, and also, certainly, a lot of support when it comes to the logistics and operations aspects. We would like to have everyone taken outside this zone, because we are not sure about the future."

The U.N. refugee agency is asking for more than $6 million in emergency assistance for Ivory Coast over the next three months.

The money will provide humanitarian aid for about 50,000 Liberian and Ivorian refugees, and will also allow the agency to stockpile essential non-food items in the region.

Also in Geneva, was the human rights minister of Ivory Coast, Victorine Wobie, who is trying to gain support for an international investigation into alleged human rights violations against civilians. These she mainly blames on the rebels.

In remarks to reporters, Ms. Wobie says she has asked officials with the U.N. refugee agency and U.N. office of human rights to get more involved in what was happening in her country.

Ms. Wobie says she reiterated a demand made by her government in early November for an inquiry into alleged atrocities. She says the United Nations also must investigate the killings of more than 100 people found in a mass grave in a rebel held area.

The rebels deny responsibility for the murders and blame government forces.

The human rights group Amnesty International says government forces as well as rebel groups are carrying out summary executions and other abuses against civilians.