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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

LIBERIA: More than 100 killed in Monrovia fighting

MONROVIA, 22 July 2003 (IRIN) - At least one hundred people have been killed and 300 injured in the Liberian capital Monrovia since rebels launched their latest attack on the city five days ago, hospital officials and relief workers said on Tuesday.

Magnus Wolfe-Murray, country manager in Liberia for the UK medical charity Merlin, said the situation in the city of one million people was "horrific, with dead bodies lying on the streets."

Liberian defence Minister Daniel Chea was quoted by international news agencies as saying that over 600 people, both civilians and combatants, had been killed. But this figure was at odds with more modest casualty reports from Monrovia's main hospital and the Liberian staff of Merlin and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

The latest heavy fighting has seen the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD)rebel movement advance further than ever before into the very heart of Monrovia.

The sounds of heavy bombardment died down in Monrovia on Monday night, but two mortar shells landed near the eastern suburb of Sinkor on Tuesday morning, prompting displaced people in the area to start trekking in heavy rain towards the neighbouring suburb of Congo Town, further away from the city centre.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that over 200,000 people in Monrovia had been displaced by fighting.

Mohamed Sheriff, the chief medical officer at Monrovia's main John F. Kennedy hospital, told IRIN on Monday that over 200 patients, mostly women and children, had received treatment for gunshot and shrapnel wounds. The hospital morgue was full with 48 bodies, he added.

"Most Liberian doctors have abandoned the hospital. We are short of everything - medical supplies, fuel to run the generator and personnel," Sheriff said. The only help the hospital was getting was from the International Committee of the Red CRoss (ICRC), he added.

The local head of MSF-France, Pierre Mendiharat, told IRIN that 13 people of the 144 war-wounded treated by MSF doctors and nurses during the latest battle had died. The intensification of fighting had forced MSF to close down two of its five health centres, he added.

On Monday, angry demonstrators had carried the bodies of 18 people killed by mortar fire to the gates of the US embassy, demanding US military intervention to restore peace to the country. The dead were among 25 people killed when mortar shells fell on the nearby Greystone compound, a residential annex to the embassy, where thousands of displaced people have sought refuge.

Merlin, whose staff are providing health care at Greystone, said around 25,000 people had sought shelter in the compound.

LURS's third attack on Monrovia in less than three months forced the UN refugee agency (UNHCR)to suspend the repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees by boat to Freetown.

UNHCR said in a statement that its chartered Danish ferry, the MV Overbeck, was unable to dock at Monrovia Freeport on Saturday because of the fighting.

The ship, which has already evacuated 950 Sierra Leonean refugees in a series of four voyages, was forced to wait offshore and was still standing by on Monday night, it added.

LURD, which was one of two rebel movements that signed up to a June 17 ceasefire with the government of President Charles Taylor, said it was determined to fight on until it captured Monrovia outright.

"What we have to do is now to take over the whole town," LURD chairman Sekou Damate Conneh told the French news agency AFP in neighbouring Cote d'Ivoire. "It shouldn't take too long because too many people are suffering."

"This time we will not withdraw," Conneh stressed.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who has put a batallion of 770 troops on standby to lead the vanguard of a West African peacekeeping force into Liberia, flew to Abidjan on Monday for talks with Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo. It was not clear whether he also met the LURD leader during his visit.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned on Monday night that Liberia was "poised between hope and dissater" and called on West African states and the United States to urgently deploy a peacekeeping foce in Liberia to salvage the situation.

He appealed to the rebels, particularly the LURD, "to respect the ceasefire and understand that they would be held accountable for any humanitarian disaster the fighting causes in Monrovia."

The US government, which has demanded that Taylor stand down and leave Liberia to pave the way for a peace settlement, also condemned LURD's latest assault on Monrovia.

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said: "We have seen this reckless and indiscriminate shelling by the LURD group and we think that has got to stop. There is a ceasefire that needs to be upheld and all of the parties in Liberia have responsibilities to see that that happens."

The US government has offered to send troops to Liberia, but only to support a regional force led by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Washington said on Monday it had put three naval vessels carrying 4,500 sailors and marines on standby for possible deployment to Liberia. The flotilla, which was moving from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, was still seven to 10 days sailing time away from West Africa.

ECOWAS meanwhile has suspended the dispatch of a technical survey team that was due to undertake reconnaisance work before the deployment of the vanguard force of up to 1,500 men. It will only move in when the security situation in Monrovia improves.

ECOWAS foreign and defence ministers were due to meet in the Senegalese capital Dakar on Tuesday and Thursday to discuss the deployment of peacekeepers to Liberia.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict



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