The situation for refugees in eastern Liberia is going from bad to worse. The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, says the atmosphere is ?highly volatile.? It?s been forced to reduce its staff in key areas, saying its ability to help thousands of people fleeing Ivory Coast has been hampered.

The situation has been very tense since a February 28th attack near Toe Town left three aid workers dead and forced thousands of people to flee a refugee transit center. The attackers are believed to have come from Ivory Coast. Making matters worse are reports that Liberian rebels are advancing eastward toward the town of Gbarnga in Bong County.

All UNHCR staff have been withdrawn from Toe Town and few staffers remain in Zwedru. Staff has also been reduced in Harper in Mariland district and Saclepea in Nimba County.

The UNHCR says, "Since November it has been assisting close to 95-thousand people in five transit centers in Liberia's eastern border areas. They include nearly 45-thousand Liberians returning from Ivory Coast, close to 40-thousand Ivorian refugees and 13-thousand other West African nationals attempting to return to their countries."

Delphine Marie is a spokesperson for the UNHCR. From Geneva, she spoke with English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua.