Humanitarian sources told IRIN on Wednesday that residents of towns and villages surrounding San Pedro, some of whom had reached the town by foot, had been fleeing towards the economic hub Abidjan and towns in central Cote d'Ivoire. While in transit in San Pedro, which has some 430,000 residents, the displaced have been catered by the local authorities and NGOs who have been coordinating their efforts to provide basic needs to the most vulnerable. One of the transit locations is the town's cultural center, which, according to sources, was inadequate to cater for the growing number of displaced.
In recent weeks, western Cote d'Ivoire has become highly volatile as a series of clashes have ensued between rebels and either the Ivorian national army or the French troops deployed in the country to monitor a ceasefire signed in October. In the last week, fighting had taken place in the towns of Duekoue, Neka, Grabo. The latest incident occurred on Monday between French troops and rebels of the Justice and Peace Movement (MJP). The MJP is one of two groups that have emerged in western Cote d'Ivoire whose stated purpose is to avenge the death of deceased military leader, General Robert Guei; the other group is known as the MPIGO.
The situation in San Pedro, the country's second economic hub, was worrisome as Monday's incident took place in Grabo, some 100km west of San Pedro. "People are fleeing", sources told IRIN. The growing insecurity had led the prefect to restrict the curfew hours from 21:00 GMT to 6:00GMT to 19:00GMT to 6:00GMT, San Pedro residents told IRIN on Wednesday.
While San Pedro was worrisome, the situation in the neighbouring town of Tabou was also of concern. The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has relocated its western bureau to Tabou as the situation in the area had deteriorated over the last week. There has been growing suspicion among the locals of Liberian armed elements among the ranks of the rebels.
This growing suspicion and overall security concerns, according to the UNHCR, were part of reasons authorities and residents in Grand-Lahou, 152km west of Abidjan, refused the UN's agency request to relocate Liberian refugees from the Nicla refugee camp to this southern town. The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday in Geneva that it was "now scrambling to find an alternative" within and outside of Cote d'Ivoire. A new, safer site would accommodate some 70,000 refugees, most of them Liberians, who had been living among host families in western Cote d'Ivoire.
In related news, the US government has said that it will not support at this time the deployment of the West African peacekeepers under the aegis of the United Nations. The US position was reported by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher during his daily briefing on Tuesday in response to reports that West African leaders were contemplating the regional troop deployment under UN control.
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