Côte d'Ivoire + 2 more

Liberia: Fighting on western border

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ABIDJAN, 10 March (IRIN) - Fierce fighting has been reported over the past few days between Liberian government troops and rebels of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) group around the town of Bo Waterside, on the border between Liberia and Sierra Leone.
A humanitarian source in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, told IRIN on Monday that fighting was continuing as government forces battled to retake the western town from the rebels. A government helicopter gunship reportedly tried to bomb rebel positions on Saturday, but the rebels scattered into nearby plantations and forests.

LURD took control of Bo Waterside two weeks ago. News reports said the rebels had barricaded the bridge across the Mano River - the boundary between the two countries - and prevented civilians from moving between the Sierra Leonean village of Jendema and Bo Waterside. Liberian authorities had expressed concern that LURD could be getting supplies from Sierra Leone. However, news agencies later reported them as saying they had found out that the suspicion was groundless.

The humanitarian source told IRIN that the fighting in the west had led to fresh displacement. "The newly displaced are fleeing to Sierra Leone," the source said. No numbers were yet available.

As a result of the fighting, parts of western Liberia remained sealed off to public transport at Po River Bridge, about 20 km from Monrovia, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on Friday.

OCHA also reported that following a 28 February attack on Toe Town on the border with Cote d'Ivoire, an estimated 3,000 returnees, Ivorian refugees and third-country nationals [West African migrants] had fled the town, where the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had set up a transit centre for people displaced by fighting in western Cote d'Ivoire.

"Some fled to Zwedru transit centres [about 73 km from Toe Town] and others towards Tapeta and villages along the road," it said. "Prior to the attack, the humanitarian community was considering relocating the returnees, refugees and third-country nationals to Zwedru in light continued insecurity in the area. Zwedru is hosting about 6,000 refugees, returnees and third country nationals."

Because of the situation in Toe Town, OCHA said, aid agencies had withdrawn from Zwedru, leaving only a few staff to monitor the situation.

The fighting in Toe Town claimed the lives of an unknown number of civilians, including three aid workers from the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) who had gone to the area to visit one of their projects. The three were Kaare Lund, ADRA director for Norway, Emmanuel Sharpolu, the agency's director for Liberia and a driver, Musa Kita. The three men had been reported missing since 28 February. Their deaths were confirmed last week by ADRA.

"With tremendous sadness...ADRA joins the families of its three slain workers in mourning the tragic loss of these courageous and dedicated men," the agency said in the statement on Sunday.

ADRA workers operating in wartorn regions were increasingly at risk of being in harm's way, but were dedicated to relieving the suffering of refugees and others affected by war, Charles Sandefur, ADRA's international president, said.

"Emmanuel, Kaare and Musa were doing just that when they lost their lives and we honor their commitment to demonstrating God's love in wartorn Liberia," he said. "At the same time we recognise that each of them derived an invaluable source of strength and courage from their families and we mourn with them at this time."

ADRA commended UNHCR and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for coordinating and carrying out the search for its workers under "extremely dangerous conditions".

UNHCR on Friday expressed extreme sadness at the killing of the three men and also said it remained extremely concerned at the fate of some 2,500 Ivorian refugees and other West African nationals who had been staying in its transit centre in Toe Town.

[ENDS]

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