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Lack of Security Hampering Liberia Humanitarian Efforts

The United Nations says lack of security, law, and order in many parts of Liberia is hampering humanitarian operations in the country.

The U.N. Refugee Agency says Liberians are continuing to flee from rebel attacks in their villages. This follows a mass exodus last week of tens of thousands of people from the northern town of Totota.

UNHCR Spokesman Ron Redmond says people still are heading for Salala, a town about 90 kilometers northeast of the capital, Monrovia, in search of refuge.

"Many of these frightened people were believed to be fleeing because, basically, of continuing rumors of fighting, looting, and harassment," said Mr. Redmond. "And so far, as far as we are able to determine, it is only rumors. Apparently, some of the armed groups in the region basically can empty a village simply by firing their weapons, making a lot of noise, spreading rumors. The population flees and their villages are looted."

Mr. Redmond says the people carry whatever they can because they know anything they leave behind probably will be looted. He says thousands of displaced people have taken shelter in a camp called Salala 1.

He noted that the camp, which previously had been home to 30,000 people, now is housing over 80,000. And, this is causing enormous problems, despite the best efforts of the humanitarian agencies.

"Various NGOs [non-governmental organizations] are in there building latrine blocks, more water and sanitation facilities. There is a camp across the road as well that is run by the ICRC," he said, referring to the International Committee of the Red Cross. "So all of us are working together. The security situation right in that particular spot is good enough so we can continue to try and get assistance in there. But this is not a situation that we want to see continue. That is why it is essential that the peacekeeping troops get in there."

Peacekeeping troops from Guinea Bissau started moving toward the Totota/Salala and Kakata region Monday. But, Mr. Redmond noted, it will take another few days for them to reach full deployment. He said he hopes the enhanced security will end the harassment that is causing people to flee their homes.