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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

LIBERIA: Government estimates over 300 killed in fighting

MONROVIA, 13 June 2003 (IRIN) - The Liberian government said on Friday it estimated that at least 300 people were killed during several days of heavy fighting with rebels who launched an attack on the capital, Monrovia. They included civilians, soldiers and rebels.

Health Minister Peter Coleman told reporters that local relief workers had so far counted 150 decomposed bodies in the western suburbs of Duala and Kru town, where several days of fierce battles took place between government fighters and rebels of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).

Hundreds of wounded civilians and government fighters, Coleman added, were in dire need of help, but the hospitals had run short of medicine. He called for aid to treat the wounded and help the hospitals cope.

Monrovia was calm for the third day running. Crowds of people displaced from the western suburbs by the street battles ventured back to check on their homes, but found that most had been thoroughly looted. Many returned to the city centre in the evening fearing that a fresh outbreak of hostilities could occur in the area, despite a government call for calm.

The government urged people to return to their homes on Friday in a statement broadcast on local radio stations. It directed all shops and businesses to reopen and said schools in Monrovia should resume normal classes on Monday. But parents remained sceptical.

The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said its team in Monrovia was trying to help Sierra Leonean refugees. About 15,000 had been living in camps on the edge of this ragged city of one million people. UNHCR said most were likely to have dispersed together with the local Liberian population.

"The High Commissioner remains extremely concerned about the chaotic and dangerous security situation in Liberia and its humanitarian impact. UNHCR fully supports the ongoing efforts to reach a ceasefire...to allow the rapid resumption of humanitarian activities for Liberia's suffering population and refugees."

The World Food Programme (WFP) said it had started distributing food to 18,000 refugees and internally displaced people. The first distribution was expected to be completed by Saturday for 17,000 Liberians living in partially destroyed buildings or schools and 600 Sierra Leoneans camping around UNHCR offices.

Relief workers said there also 30,000 or more displaced people camped at the Samuel Doe national stadium, with only three wells to provide water. Isolated cases of cholera have already been reported there.

"If the guns remain silent in Monrovia, WFP and its humanitarian partners will continue the emergency assistance in coming days to help all displaced people in the capital," WFP said in a statement.

LURD rebels who launched an attack on Monrovia on June 5 retreated earlier this week to positions on the edge of the city after President Charles Taylor told a team of West African mediators that he was prepared to halt hostilities and negotiate a ceasefire.

Stalled peace talks between rebels and the government restarted in the Ghanaian town of Akosombo, 100 kms north of the capital, Accra, on Thursday. Several participants said they were hopeful of signing a ceasefire agreement during the weekend.

The talks formally opened on June 4, but were immediately suspended following Taylor's indictment by a war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone and the LURD attack on Monrovia.

They were also hampered by the absence of a second rebel group, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), which finally sent a negotiating team to Ghana this week.

Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Food Security, (IRIN) Health & Nutrition, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs



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