Côte d'Ivoire

UNICEF welcomes Ivory Coast pact, seeks funds

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GENEVA, Jan 24 (Reuters) - The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Friday welcomed the Ivory Coast peace plan and appealed for funds to vaccinate children against measles and get them back to school after months of conflict.

Demobilising child soldiers recruited by rebels and tackling signs of malnutrition among families who fled fighting are also looming challenges, it said in an $5.7 million appeal to donors.

Rival factions meeting in Paris said they had united in a bid to end four months of bloody civil war with a plan, to be ratified by a West African leaders summit this weekend, calling for a coalition government and measures to ease ethnic strife.

"This gives hopes to the people in Ivory Coast and its neighbouring countries. However, much remains to be done on the humanitarian front to meet the health and education needs of children and to foster peace-building...," Rima Salah, UNICEF regional director for West and Central Africa, told a briefing.

"We have to vaccinate children. This is a matter of survival," she added.

Some 3.5 million children under age 14 will be immunised against measles, at the cost of $1 per child.

The appeal for the country of 16 million people covers needs over the next two months. It also includes $1.2 million for education supplies for 340,000 children and $1 million to conduct nutritional surveys.

Eight percent of the estimated one million internally displaced who fled fighting are women and children, UNICEF said.

"Social and health services no longer function in rebel-held zones. These are the most vulnerable children," said Georgette Aithnard, UNICEF representative in Ivory Coast. "If peace is at hand we have to intervene quickly."

"There is a serious threat of malnutrition. The situation is not critical but if we don't do something now it will become critical," she added.

Carolyn McAskie, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's humanitarian envoy for the crisis who met President Laurent Gbago this week, voiced concern about the lack of access to rebel-held areas amid urgent needs, an overnight statement said.

"Many medical personnel have stopped attending clinics in rebel-controlled areas and hospitals are thus depleted of supplies and of staff," it said.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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