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Monday, 11 February, 2002, 22:45 GMT
Humanitarian crisis looms in Liberia
Refugees
Food and clean water are in short supply
Refugee camps around the Liberian capital Monrovia are struggling to cope with thousands of people fleeing renewed clashes between the government and rebels.


Unless humanitarian organisations move in quickly and distribute emergency food rations, I fear there will be a humanitarian crisis here shortly

Social worker Christiana Wilson

Thousands of refugees have been flocking towards the capital since late last week when rebels attacked the town of Klay, just 35 kilometres (22 miles) away.

Liberian President Charles Taylor declared a state of emergency on Friday, but has denied that Monrovia is under threat from advancing rebel forces.

The opposition Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) movement says it holds much of north-west Liberia, but the government says it has regained control of Klay.

The BBC's West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle has visited Klay, where he says the signs of recent battle can be seen.

Burnt out cars are still smouldering, houses have been burnt to the ground, and ransacked and spent ammunition litters the ground.

The town is deserted except for government soldiers burying dead civilians in shallow graves.

Troops on patrol there said the entire region was now free of rebels. The number of casualties is unclear, but bodies are still being found.

Refugees, carrying bundles of their belongings on their heads, have been pouring into camps in and around Monrovia, especially in the town of Zwannah, French news agency AFP reports.

Some have reached Monrovia using bush paths, but those that try the roads are stopped by government soldiers and told to stay in makeshift camps.

Refugees fleeing from  fighting in Klay
Refugees can be seen on the roads carrying their belongings

Our correspondent says the government does not want a wave of panicky people reaching the capital which despite the activity further north, seems relatively calm.

Christiana Wilson, a social worker at the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC), told AFP that nearly 4,000 new arrivals had been registered in Zwannah since Friday.

Rebel ultimatum

She said another 2,000 people had arrived at another nearby camp which was already home to about 3,000 refugees from Sierra Leone.

"Safe drinking water, food and accommodation are in short supply," she was quoted as saying.

"Unless humanitarian organisations move in quickly and distribute emergency food rations, I fear there will be a humanitarian crisis here shortly."

President of Liberia Charles Taylor
Mr Taylor declared a state of emergency

The last civil war in Liberia, which ended in 1997, killed up to 200,000 people.

The latest conflict between the government and LURD has been raging since July 2000. Two weeks ago, the rebels briefly captured the village of Sawmill, just 80km from Monrovia.

The rebels said at the weekend they would attack Monrovia within a week if Mr Taylor did not step down.

Defence Minister Daniel Chea told Reuters news agency on Sunday that fighting was now concentrated on the town of Bopolu, 85 km (45 miles) north of Monrovia.

The LURD says it has been using Bopolu as a base.

The government says its ability to fight the rebels effectively is being hampered by a United Nations weapons embargo imposed on Liberia to curb diamonds-for-arms trading with rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone.


Talking PointTALKING POINT
Liberia
How can the problems be solved?
See also:

12 Feb 01 | Africa
Timeline: Liberia
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Liberia
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