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UN calls on Liberian Government to protect civilians, ensure safe humanitarian access

UN calls on Liberian Government to protect civilians, ensure safe humanitarian access

A senior United Nations relief official reported today that the violence sweeping much of Liberia has taken a grave twist as armed groups now appear to be targeting some of the most vulnerable people in the war-ravaged country - internally displaced persons (IDPs), other civilians and even humanitarian aid workers.

Calling on the Liberian Government to do everything in its power to protect civilians, Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Carolyn McAskie denounced the recent attacks on IDPs as clear violations of international humanitarian law. "All parties to the conflict must ensure that attacks on civilians do not occur," she said in a press release.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported last week that four people had been killed and thousands forced to flee during attacks by armed groups on Jartondo and Wilson IDP camps - part of a disturbing trend of civilian targeting. Another IDP camp at Rick's institute was attacked and looted in late March, forcing an estimated 25,000 people staying there to flee.

Ms. McAskie said there is also growing concern that food distribution may be emerging as a target for armed groups. "The issue remains crucial, as it means humanitarian workers may be specifically targeted," she added, noting at least two staff members from non-governmental organizations (NGO) were injured in last week's IDP camp attacks. This trend highlights the UN's continuing concern about the condition of more than 100 humanitarian staff who have not been heard from since late last month, when violence erupted around Zwedru, near the border with Côte d'Ivoire.

Ms. McAskie also underscored the effect ongoing violence and looting have on humanitarian operations. The UN estimates that there are some 200,000 IDPs in Liberia, most of them in areas cut-off from assistance. Violence and unrest keep aid workers from reaching thousands of desperate people - especially in the northwest and eastern parts of the country - and the looting compounds shortages of non-food supplies such as tarpaulins, household items, and blankets. "Conditions should be created for humanitarian workers to safely access areas where people need help," she said.