UN Mulls Hunger In Liberia

News and Press Release
Originally published
MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) -- Relief workers visiting an area isolated for seven months by fighting have found thousands of people at risk of starvation, including children so severely malnourished that flesh was falling from their feet.

A humanitarian convoy visited trapped civilians in the northern city of Tubmanburg on Saturday, a trip that follows a cease-fire reached last month. They estimated that 60 percent of the city's 35,000 residents are severely malnourished.

Ken Page of the U.N. Department of Humanitarian Affairs said hundreds of children are living skeletons, too weak even to sit up, and residents spend most of their time foraging in the woods for edible roots and plants.

''It's a real horror show,'' he said.

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

''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 director in Liberia.

He said an orphanage that once housed 35 children now has only five.

''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,'' Elguindi said.

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.

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.

More than 150,000 people have died and half the country's 2.6 million people have been left homeless.

Ruth Perry 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