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UN relief officials concerned by reports of thousands of Liberians displaced by new fighting

UN relief officials concerned by reports of thousands of Liberians displaced by new fighting

United Nations officials today voiced concern over reports that a new outbreak of fighting north of the Liberian capital of Monrovia has reportedly displaced tens of thousands of people, including refugees from Sierra Leone who had sought shelter in the neighbouring West African country.

The people who fled the fighting - as many as 100,000, according to government figures - have now gathered at Klay Junction, some 35 kilometres outside Monrovia, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today.

Among the displaced are Sierra Leonean refugees who were living in Lofa and Gbarpolu counties and who are now fleeing the fighting and joining existing camp populations, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said at a press briefing in Geneva. Since fighting intensified in Liberia's northern counties in December, more than 6,000 new arrivals have been registered by the agency in various camps around Monrovia.

A statement released in New York by the UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Carolyn McAskie, said that on 27 January armed men believed to be dissidents reportedly told the inhabitants of the temporarily displaced persons camp in Sawmill to leave.

Shots were fired into the air, causing 10,000 people - most of them women and children - to flee. As a result of this incident, roughly half of the inhabitants of the nearby town of Tubmanburg also fled to Klay, fearing for their safety.

UN agencies and non-governmental organizations were able to quickly assess the conditions of about 25,000 newly displaced persons at Klay, but since Sunday have been denied access to the camp. Relief agencies estimate that another group of some 9,000 displaced persons is still in Sawmill, however, assessing their condition is far impossible since the area remains too dangerous.

In her statement, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator urged the Government of Liberia to take the necessary measures to protect civilians in armed conflict and to ensure that humanitarian workers "have safe, unhindered access to conflict-affected civilians without fear of being deprived of their means of transportation."