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WFP Wants Security Guarantees in Ivory Coast - 2003-01-11

The United Nations World Food Program says it plans to ask participants at Ivory Coast peace negotiations in Paris this week to include humanitarian needs on the agenda. The WFP wants guarantees that aid workers will be allowed safe access to thousands of people trapped in combat zones.

The World Food Program says aid workers have no access to tens of thousands of Liberian refugees and internally-displaced people in the western rebel-controlled areas of Ivory Coast.

WFP Spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume says these people are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. But, she says, the region is off limits to aid agencies because of nearly four months of fighting. She says the WFP wants the Ivorian government and rebel negotiators in Paris to open up special routes, with guaranteed safe passage for aid workers trying to reach vulnerable people.

"What we would like to have is humanitarian corridors, routes that would be secure for our staff to go inside in a secure area in the western part of the county where we can bring relief food assistance, and these roads could also be used for refugees or displaced people to get out of this area, which is so insecure," said Christiane Berthiaume.

The U.N. refugee agency reports that tens of thousands of Liberian refugees are trapped in western Ivory Coast. It says the refugees would like to flee to safer areas in the south, or across borders into neighboring countries, but are prevented from doing so by both the rebels and by government sympathizers who are manning checkpoints.

Ms. Berthiaume says humanitarian corridors would make it possible for some of the refugees to leave this insecure area. She says, before the civil war broke out in September, WFP maintained a small school feeding program. But she says the agency has had to stop this program for children in the rebel-held areas. The agency still assists 41,000 children in the government-controlled areas.

"The government has asked us, as well, to help with the children that are displaced, to distribute food to them," she said. "They are going to be allowed to go to the schools, if they are not from that area, because they are displaced. And, we will distribute also rations, the meal at lunch, as well as rations to the families, at least for a three-month initial period to make sure they will send their kids to school."

WFP appealed for $6.6. million in November. Ms. Berthiaume says only 30 percent of the money has come through. As a result, she says, the agency only will be able to feed 120,000 instead of 170,000 needy people in January and February.