Liberia

Aid to countryside halted after rebels abducted civilians

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MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) -- Relief workers halted an aid convoy to a northern town cut off by factional fighting, saying Thursday armed rebels had abducted civilians at a food distribution centre.

Relief crews have been delivering tonnes of food and medicine this week to some 35,000 people facing severe hunger in the rural city of Tubmanburg, some 80 kilometres north of the capital of Monrovia.

UN sources who spoke to reporters by radio from Tubmanburg said aid workers began leaving following reports Thursday afternoon that a number of refugees returning from a feeding centre had been captured by rebels.

They said the abductions took place on the eastern outskirts of Tubmanburg, where Ulimo-K and Ulimo-J rebels have clashed in recent weeks.

The sources blamed fighters of Alhaji Kromah's Ulimo-K, who had been engaging in hit-and-run raids against Ulimo-J positions around Tubmanburg before the latest ceasefire went into effect.

The incident occurred less than an hour after a team of foreign diplomats in Tubmanburg to assess the situation returned to the capital. The delegation included U.S. Ambassador William Milam and UN special envoy Anthony Nyakyi.

Some 22,000 refugees have gathered in Tubmanburg for food and medical care. Dozens of people, mostly children and the elderly, have died since relief officials reached the city for the first time since February. Another eight people had died of starvation since Wednesday.

Efforts to reach the northeastern region of Cape Mount Country were thwarted Wednesday because of renewed fighting. Reports from other parts of the West African country also indicated that an August ceasefire was unravelling.

The ceasefire signed by Liberia's warlords cleared the way for aid agencies to venture out from Monrovia. The ceasefire calls for immediate disarmament and elections by May 1997.

More than a dozen previous ceasefires have collapsed because of fighting among rival factions. More than 150,000 people have died since the civil war began in 1989.

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