Politics | Society
Liberians huddle for safety in Monrovia stadium
afrol News, 11 June - After nearly a week of sporadic firefights and rocket explosions in the surrounding suburbs, Liberia's capital city of Monrovia is reported to have been relatively calm today. While President Charles Taylor has agreed to stop the fighting, thousands of terrified people holed up in a local sports stadium for safety.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the number of internally displaced persons staying at the national stadium in Monrovia is now estimated to be as high as 30,000.
Although local agencies are working to provide high-protein biscuits, shelter materials and water and sanitation facilities, according to the UN, "a new danger may be emerging as cases of measles and diarrhoea are now being reported among the desperate population at the sports complex as well as in the other spontaneous displaced persons' camps that dot the city." OCHA said that health agencies are concerned that the situation could result in epidemics if the war continues and these areas become inaccessible.
Since last week, tens of thousands of people have been pouring into central Monrovia to flee the fighting on the outskirts of the city between government troops and the country's main rebel group, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). Among them were about 115,000 people living in the camps that ringed the city.
Fighting in Monrovia appears to have died down Wednesday morning after LURD originally had offered a ceasefire on Sunday to "avoid" a humanitarian disaster. President Taylor today was reported to have agreed to stop the fighting as well after international pressure. Yesterday, the Taylor regime had called on the UN to deploy a peacekeeping force in Liberia.
In Monrovia, President Taylor's spokesman Vaani Paasewe told reporters the government now wanted a ceasefire. "The government wants the rebels to retreat to the positions they occupied before the Akosombo [peace] talks [in Ghana]," he said. That would however imply a substantial withdrawal for the LURD rebels, who now feel victory is near.
Although fighting appeared to have died down Wednesday morning after sporadic shooting in the western and eastern suburbs, it remained "extremely difficult for humanitarian workers to operate in Monrovia, as personnel have been threatened and vehicles have been looted," OCHA reported. Yesterday, the UN refugee agency evacuated its remaining international staff from the Liberian capital.
- As widespread insecurity has stymied humanitarian efforts to deliver relief goods and supplies, fear and panic among the frightened population has driven up the cost of basic commodities, the UN says.
OCHA reported that prices of rice and petrol continue to skyrocket in one of the world's poorest countries. Hundreds of people queued in front of Western Union Offices today to collect money sent to them by relatives and friends abroad.
Gravely concerned at "the rapidly deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Liberia," members of the UN Security Council today therefore urged all combatants in the strongest terms to end hostilities immediately and agree to a ceasefire.
In a statement to the press following a briefing on the situation in Liberia, the Security Council stressed the "urgent need for the combatants to spare the lives and property of civilians, to maintain defensive positions well clear of the capital Monrovia," as well as the port city of Buchanan.
- Council members welcomed Liberian President Charles Taylor's June 4 announcement that he was prepared to step down no later than the end of his current term, a spokesman of the council said. "[They] also expressed their support of the work of the Sierra Leone Special Court, took note of its recent public statements regarding indictments and expressed the need to ensure both peace and justice are achieved in Sierra Leone," he added.
By staff writer
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