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Thousands Flee Fighting in Liberia


United Nations aid agencies report thousands of people are fleeing from continuing fighting in some parts of Liberia. The agencies say bad security is hampering their ability to reach these people with desperately needed humanitarian assistance.

U.N. aid agencies say they managed to send six trucks of emergency relief goods on Thursday to Salala, a town about 90 kilometers northeast of the Liberian capital, Monrovia. This follows an assessment mission the previous day to the hard to reach area.

U.N. Refugee Spokesman, Rupert Colville, says tens of thousands of people fled to Salala after rebels attacked their homes and camps in the northern town of Totota. He says people are continuing to flee amid reports of widespread looting.

"The scene on Wednesday, apparently, when we had a mission out there, was one of total chaos and misery," he said. "Long lines of people walking along the road between Totota and Salala carrying heavy bundles and begging humanitarian teams for help, for transport, food, security, anything. They are very desperate people."

Mr. Colville says camps in Salala are overflowing with newly arrived displaced people. For example, he notes one camp that was planned to house 7,000 people, probably now holds about 60,000.

Aid workers express growing concern about a possible massive exodus into the already overcrowded capital. They fear this could cause immense security and health problems in the city.

A spokeswoman for the World Food Program, Christiane Berthiaume, says displaced people are heading for Monrovia because it is the only part of the country secured by West African peacekeepers.

She says humanitarian agencies already are finding it difficult to cope with the one million inhabitants of the city, 300,000 of whom are homeless. She says it will be very difficult to absorb more people.

"The displaced people who are already in Monrovia do live in appalling conditions," she said. "They live in abandoned houses, in schools. They have no electricity, no water. It is raining and some of the houses do not have a proper roof. So, there is no facility to accommodate those new displaced people. And, if they come into Monrovia, it is going to be total anarchy."

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization says people in Liberia face huge water and sanitation problems. It says only 32 percent of Liberia's population has access to clean drinking water and fewer than 30 percent have access to latrines.

In addition, the WHO says Monrovia is in the midst of a health crisis. There are reports of thousands of cases of cholera, as well as outbreaks of diarrhea and measles.