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Friday, 7 February, 2003, 10:31 GMT
Refugees flee Liberia battle
Civilians fleeing the fighting
Most refugees avoided the main highway

Hundreds of people have been streaming into camps for previously displaced people in the western suburbs of the capital, Monrovia.

Many have been trekking through dense forests for three days to escape the latest military hostilities in north-western Liberia.

When we see people running coming toward us, we don't ask questions, we join them because there must be an attack

Denneh Swaray
The influx, mostly the elderly, breast-feeding mothers and half-naked children, have been assembled under a makeshift shelter for registration at the Jah-Tondo Displaced Centre.

Amongst them are two sets of twins born en route to the camp.

Earlier this week, rebels from the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd) group were reported to be on the outskirts of Monrovia, sparking panic, but this later proved to be a false alarm.

The visibly exhausted people fled newly attacked towns such as Tubmanburg, Bopolu and Sawmill.

Security screening

They used bush paths to avoid the main Monrovia-Tubmanburg highway, which is the obvious route for any attacks on the Liberian capital from the embattled zone.

Field workers of the government-owned Liberia Refugee Repatriation Commission have been working overtime to register the arrivals who have to first submit to thorough security screening upon arriving in those camps.

A registration monitor at the Jah-Tondo Camp, Robert Toe, told me up to 600 people are now arriving in the camp a day.

So tired are the new arrivals I saw that instead of forming the normal queue to be registered, they lined up their bundles before the registration team and sat beside them.

The space each bundle occupied represented the position of the bundle's owner in going through the registration process.

'Running people'

Augustine Seh, 42, and his 21-year-old wife, Hawa, had just arrived from Tubmanburg and looked relieved.

Hawa said because of previous experiences when Lurd rebels took over Tubmanburg, civilians began fleeing the town upon hearing sounds of artillery from the direction of Sawmill on Monday.

Liberian President Charles Taylor
Mr Taylor has asked the rebels to talk

"Nobody was brave enough to remain in town. If Tubmanburg becomes okay again maybe we will return there, but it will be a hard decision to make," she said.

Denneh Swaray, a virtually starving breast-feeding mother, added that the entire north-western region has become unsafe. "We have become a running people in the area. When we see people running coming toward us, we don't ask questions, we join them because there must be an attack."

No food assistance has so far reached the new arrivals.

Peace talks?

Meanwhile, well-armed government troops, mostly young militia fighters, have continued to move into the Tubmanburg area.

Defence Minister Daniel Chea said that the military situation in the provincial town has not changed during the last 24 hours.

He did not elaborate but military reports had said that the town was divided between the two sides.

A member of the parliament hailing from the Tubmanburg region, Sando Johnson, is at the same time accusing the rebels of carrying out major massacres in the latest fighting.

There is no independent confirmation of his allegations.

On Wednesday, President Charles Taylor urged the rebels to join his government in a meeting which, he said, has been arranged by West African leaders in Mali to find a way of resolving the crisis.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Bamford
"Reports of confusion and general panic in the Liberian capital"
News, analysis and background from Liberia's conflict and escalating refugee crisis

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05 Feb 03 | Africa
14 Sep 02 | Africa
03 Aug 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
07 May 02 | Africa
06 May 01 | Africa
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