The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, says the security situation in Liberia is very slowly improving. Liberians are still crossing the border into neighboring countries and fighting continues between government forces and LURD rebels in Bong and Nimba counties.

Astrid Van Genderen-Stort is the spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Liberia. From Monrovia, she spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the status of humanitarian operations.

She says, ?The situation in Liberia is far from perfect at the moment. The country is still divided into areas, which are under the control of rebel forces, LURD rebel forces, and government militia.? She says while ECOMIL has deployed several thousand troops, but a big improvement in security is not expected until the UN deploys peacekeeping troops in October. However, that operation could take several weeks.

She says UNHCR teams have returned to two areas they were forced to leave earlier this year, Zwedru and Harper. There are also reports of thousands of Liberians crossing into Guinea over the past 7 to 10 days. A much smaller number of Liberians is reported to be entering Sierra Leone.

Ms. Van Genderen-Stort says, ?The situation in the north is still not safe enough? to send teams. As a result, the UN agency cannot confirm reports of armed fighters raping or killing displaced people. She says she can confirm that many are being harassed and robbed of what little goods they have. The repatriation operation of Sierra Leonean refugees has been temporarily halted.

Ms. Van Genderen-Stort says the UNHCR is no longer using a ship to repatriate them because the vessel has been plagued by mechanical problems. Currently roads are being repaired and the refugees may be returned in the coming weeks by truck.