UN Describes Starvation

News and Press Release
Originally published
MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) -- Lack of food and medical aid has reduced much of the population of one northern city to ''skin and bones,'' said aid workers able to reach Tubmanburg for the first time in seven months.

''It's a real horror show,'' Ken Page of the U.N. Department of Humanitarian Affairs said Sunday. People were ''dying before your eyes.''

Hundreds of children are living skeletons, Page said, too weak to even sit up. The flesh on the feet of some of the children has fallen off due to critical malnutrition.

Residents said about 15 people were dying daily in the city, 50 miles north of Monrovia.

Tubmanburg has been off-limits due to fighting between rival factions. A cease-fire reached last month cleared the way for a humanitarian convoy to reach Tubmanburg's trapped civilians on Saturday.

''When we met with a village leader he apologized for being late -- he had just come from burying 11 people,'' said Tarek Elguindi, the World Food Program country director in Liberia.

The relief team visited an orphanage that once housed 35 children. ''Only five remained, the others had died,'' Elguindi said. ''When we found the woman who ran the orphanage she screamed at us that she couldn't take it anymore, that she had been burying an orphan every other day.''

Tubmanburg at one time was protected by peacekeeping troops and well-supplied by aid agencies. But factional fighting for control of the region eventually drove aid workers and peacekeepers away -- and prevented civilians from reaching the capital, Monrovia.

The city has been calm since the end of May, with the warlords disarming their fighters and allowing safe passage of relief convoys.

About 60 percent of Tubmanburg's 35,000 residents are believed to be severely malnourished, and aid workers say tens of thousands of others in rural regions cut off by fighting are also at risk of starving to death.

Page said most people in the city spend their time foraging in the woods for edible roots and plants.

Liberia's civil war began in 1989 with rebel leader Charles Taylor's assault on the dictatorial regime of President Samuel Doe. After Doe was toppled and executed in 1990, the war continued among several factions fighting mainly along ethnic lines. More than 150,000 people have died and half the country's 2.6 million people have been left homeless.

A peace accord was signed in August 1995 and the country remained relatively calm until a standoff between Taylor and Roosevelt Johnson in April led to the capital's bloodiest showdown since the war began.

The fighting prompted the U.S. military evacuation of more than 2,000 foreigners, including most international aid workers, and left more than 1,500 people dead.

Ruth Perry, the country's first female head of state, was inaugurated Tuesday as head of an interim government that promises to end the seven-year civil war and hold elections next year.

=A9 Copyright 1996 The Associated Press