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Tuesday, 2 July, 2002, 11:11 GMT 12:11 UK
Blind refugees 'in Liberian town'
People fleeing fighting around Tubmanburg
Refugees flee the fighting however they can
Many of the 60 blind refugees who were reportedly abducted earlier this year are alive and well, according to a journalist who has visited the rebel-held town of Tubmanburg.

James Brabazon, from the photo-journalism agency Camerapix, says that a church worker is helping them, although one elderly man was killed in fighting last week.


The population is very tense

James Brabazon
The refugees were reportedly taken by rebels, along with a British priest, Father Garry Jenkins, who has since been released.

In the capital, Monrovia, the United Nations has started relocating its staff away from the northern suburb of River-View, due to intelligence reports that it may be the next target for an attacks by the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd) rebels.

Mr Brabazon is one of the first reporters to visit areas held by the mysterious Lurd rebels.

'No harassment'

He told the BBC's Network Africa programme that he has been in Lurd areas for three months and has not seen any obvious signs of harassment of civilians.

Despite government claims to have retaken Tubmanburg, Mr Brabazon says that over 1,000 rebel troops are in control of the town of strategic town.

It lies 60km north of Monrovia, on the main road from the rebel's north-eastern headquarters of Voinjama.

The rebels captured Tubmanburg on 11 May and according to Mr Brabazon have beaten off several government attacks, including one as recently as 28 June.

Tubmanburg residents are stuck in the town but many of them flee into the bush when fighting threatens to break out.

Target Monrovia

"The population is very tense and concerned about the situation" but a rudimentary market is operating in the town, says Mr Brabazon.

Liberian army
Is the army ready for a rebel offensive ?

Little is known about the Lurd group but Mr Brabazon says that most of their fighters are ethnic Mandingos and Krahns.

Many fought against President Charles Taylor in the long civil war and complain that they were not integrated into the government army when he was elected president in 1997.

The Lurd's next target is likely to be Monrovia, says Mr Brabazon but he adds that it is not imminent, due to a shortage of weapons and ammunition.

Safe house?

These have to be carried by civilian porters from the areas around the Lurd headquarters at Voinjama.

Only small amounts can be carried at a time and there are not enough available for an offensive to be launched yet.

Liberian President Charles Taylor
Charles Taylor says Liberia cannot equip its army because of UN arms embargo

Mr Taylor's government also complains about a lack of equipment, due to international sanctions.

The transfer of the UN Monrovia offices to an area close to the United States embassy has been confirmed by the UNDP coordinator in Liberia, Marc Destanne de Bernis.

But he denies that the move is to get personnel closer to the US embassy in case of further fighting and the need to evacuate staff.

News, analysis and background from Liberia's conflict and escalating refugee crisis

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See also:

19 Mar 02 | Africa
20 May 02 | Africa
17 May 02 | Africa
13 May 02 | Africa
07 May 02 | Africa
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