Liberians Flee Fighting as Crisis Continues

MSF addresses UN Security Council on urgent humanitarian needs

New York/Monrovia, September 9, 2003 — Active fighting in Bong county northeast of the Liberian capital of Monrovia is threatening tens of thousands of people and forcing them to flee their homes and camps. In a special "Arria Formula" briefing of the United Nations Security Council on Liberia today, the international medical humanitarian organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) underlined the extreme gravity of the crisis faced by hundreds of thousands of Liberians. It stressed that the highest priority is to urgently ensure that war-affected Liberians are protected from violence and assisted adequately.

"Fighting may have ceased momentarily in Monrovia, but Liberia is not a country at peace," said Dr. Morten Rostrup, MSF International Council President in his address to the Security Council. "MSF is concerned that the predominant optimistic understanding among states, UN agencies and NGOs that Liberia is well on the road to peace and reconstruction is undermining the urgent response required to meet the massive needs of the people today."

In the past week, more than 50,000 displaced people - including sick patients from an MSF feeding center and cholera treatment facility - and an unknown number of villagers have had to flee for their lives in a panic from camps at Maimu and Totota. Many arrived in Salala, doubling the population in an already overcrowded displaced persons camp.

In a state of shock, those who are seeking refuge and minimal assistance speak of the violence they have endured during their flight: beatings, tortures, rape and looting. They have lost nearly all of their belongings.

Fighting erupted today in the town of Kakata, some 30 miles outside Monrovia. A front line now cuts off access to the town and the camp at Salala, north of Kakata. MSF was treating 250 severely malnourished children, as well as running a clinic and a cholera treatment center. Today, MSF can no longer reach its patients in this area. A health post MSF opened last week in Careysburg, between Kakata and Monrovia, is the sole remaining health facility on the road to Bong county.

"We have lost severely malnourished children, as well as cholera patients. Tens of thousands of people are cut off from assistance as they are forced to flee the fighting," Dr. Rostrup said. "It is impossible to even begin discussions about moving into a peace and reconstruction phase when hundreds of thousands of Liberians are still being threatened by fighting and are in desperate need of protection and assistance."

MSF has worked in Liberia since 1990 and currently has 44 international and over 300 national staff running 2 hospitals, 11 clinics, 2 therapeutic feeding centers, and 3 cholera treatment centers in Monrovia. MSF is also running 3 health clinics in displaced camps in Montserrado county, a mobile clinic in Tubmanburg in Bomi county, and offering health and water/sanitation assistance in 3 camps in Bong county.