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Refugee Camps Outside Liberian Capital Emptied, says Red Cross

The International Committee of the Red Cross has said refugee camps outside Monrovia have emptied out. It said 150,000 people have moved into the Liberian capital, seeking protection from fighting between government and rebel forces. The agency said humanitarian assistance is desperately needed but few aid agencies remain in the city to provide care.

A senior Red Cross official describes the situation in Monrovia as quiet but tense.

The relief agency's chief of operations in West Africa, Laurent Corbaz, said the shops are closed and few people are on the streets. Most of the 150,000 people who fled into the city are staying in official buildings such as schools and in the stadium.

In the past few days, Mr. Corbaz said, Red Cross doctors have treated 500 patients. Tuesday another 130 people wounded in the fighting were admitted to Monrovia's surgical hospital.

The Red Cross official said, for now, the condition of the displaced population is not bad because they had access to food, water and medical care in the camps which they recently were forced to abandon.

"Certainly, today, the situation cannot be described as catastrophic, but in one week, it could be. There were various organizations taking care of these people. Today, apart from MSF [Medecins Sans Frontiere-Doctors Without Borders] and ICRC, there is nobody left. Many of the organizations of the United Nations system were present on the spot. None of them is still present. Of course, this creates a gap," he said.

Mr. Corbaz said many of the 530 people who were flown out of Monrovia on Monday were people working for U.N. humanitarian organizations.

He said only MSF, a French acronym for Doctors Without Borders, and eight expatriate ICRC staff remain in Monrovia to care for the hundreds of thousands of people who might need help. He said the ICRC will do the best it can, but with only eight people on the spot, no one should expect miracles.