Liberia

Liberia: IDPs complain of forced conscription

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MONROVIA, 19 February (IRIN) - Local militias loyal to Liberia's government have been harassing internally displaced persons (IDPs) and forcibly recruiting them to fight against the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). However IDPs in camps around the Liberian capital, Monrovia, have complained before the authorities.
The IDPs told IRIN over the weekend at the Jah Tondo Displaced Camp situated about 17 km west of Monrovia that following an upsurge in fighting in the west, armed militias had been entering the camps and conscripting young, able-bodied men to fight alongside government fighters.

IDPs from the Wilson Corner, Water-In-The Desert and Risks camps, which are close to Jah Tondo, also indicated that they had also been harassed and intimidated by militias in the camps who sometimes regarded IDPs as "suspected rebels". They said the situation was unbearable and urged the Liberian government to stop the militias from attacking them.

Sam Brown, the executive director of Liberia Refugees, Repatriation and Resettlement Commission, which has responsibility for the IDP Camps, told IRIN on Monday that he regretted the harassment and recruitment of IDPs by the militias.

He said his agency was working with other relevant state security agencies and an inter-agency working group on the formulation of strategies to curtail the "illegal actions against IDPs" by militias. He said the Liberian government had an obligation to protect IDPs.

The interagency working group is made up of UN agencies, NGOs and government ministries under the overall coordination of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA-Liberia.

Last week, Liberia's deputy defence minister for operations, General Austin Clarke, had warned government fighters to refrain from conscripting civilians and threatened to take drastic disciplinary action against those who continued to do so. His warning had followed reports of conscriptions in Monrovia in response to the upsurge in fighting between loyalists forces and LURD, which began in early February in western Liberia.

The fighting spread last week to the previously unaffected town of Robertsport, capital of Grand Cape Mount County but, according to Defence Minister Daniel Chea, government troops were in full control of the southwestern coastal city.

Chea said at a news conference in Monrovia on Tuesday that the fighting had spread on two strategic fronts in northwestern Liberia close to the Guinean border: Zorzor and Kolahun districts in the northern county of Lofa. He also confirmed fighting in Bo-Water side, which is 120 km west of Monrovia, near the Sierra Leonean border.

UNHCR in Monrovia reported on Monday that the fighting along the border had caused 6000 Liberians to cross over into Sierra Leone.

Other battlefronts, according to the defence minister, included Gbah, a town situated between Grand Cape Mount and neighbouring Bomi County on the highway linking Monrovia to the Sierra Leonean border, and Tubmanburg in Bomi county, 60km west of Monrovia.

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