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Humanitarian Operations In Liberia Moving Ahead Slowly - 2003-08-25

As peacekeeping troops deploy in Liberia, humanitarian operations are following closely behind. One of the major problems facing aid groups is displaced people -- those who have been scattered about the country because of the fighting.

Astrid Van Genderen-Stort is with the UNHCR. From Monrovia, she spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the status of the UN refugee agency’s operations. She says, “Operations are going according to plan but it’s all going very slowly. The security situation in the country is far from ideal. It’s still very, very dangerous up country.” Ms. Van Genderen-Stort says the capital, Monrovia, is not safe either because “militias are roaming around.”

She says the UNHCR and other agencies haven’t had any access to the Ivorian refugees, who are in the east of the country due to security reasons.

The agency has supplies on hand for 30, 000 people, such as blankets, mattresses, plastic sheeting, kitchen sets and hygiene kits. The UNHCR spokeswoman says, “We’re setting up a big distribution system, which hopefully over the coming months will reach the whole of the country. There are more than a million people displaced.”

The humanitarian community is supposed to have access to those in need under a deal worked out with the rebel groups, government and peacekeepers.

The UNHCR is also continuing to repatriate Sierra Leonean refugees. However, the ship being used has suffered mechanical problems and is being brought back to port for repairs. Once the rainy season ends, Sierra Leoneans will also be brought home by truck. Ms. Van Genderen-Stort says the agency does need more personnel in Liberia.