'Alarmed' by intensified clashes in Liberia, Annan calls for protection of civilians

Kofi Annan

9 June 2003 – Alarmed that escalating clashes between rebels and government forces in Liberia have severely impacted the already-desperate people living in and around the capital of Monrovia, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today called on the parties to take all necessary measures to ensure that civilians are not targeted and spared the effects of war.

Mr. Annan is troubled not only by the severe effect the intensified fighting is having on the Liberian capital's more than one million inhabitants, he is also concerned that clashes on the city's western edge have caused the majority of an estimated 100,000 displaced people in camps there to flee for their safety, according to UN spokesman Fred Eckhard.

Thousands have moved to the central and eastern parts of the capital, Mr. Eckhard added, noting that before fighting erupted around Monrovia on 5 June, humanitarian workers had access to barely 30 per cent of Liberia. "Today, virtually none of Liberia's more than 3 million people, already traumatized by years of war and abject poverty, will be able to receive emergency relief assistance," he said.

Along with his call for civilian protection, the Secretary-General also urged the parties to prevent looting of humanitarian assets and property. "Finally," Mr. Eckhard said, "he reminds them that perpetrators of international humanitarian and human rights law violations, which have been far too common in Liberia, will be held accountable for their acts."

Meanwhile on the ground, the Secretary-General's Representative for Liberia, Abou Moussa, continues to engage informally with the parties to the Liberia peace talks underway in Ghana. The talks are expected to begin fully on Wednesday, when the political delegation of the Movement for Democracy of Liberia (MODEL) is expected to join the meeting.

The spokesman said that earlier today in Monrovia, the intensified fighting has forced 29 UN international staff, together with European Union nationals, to be taken out of the city to a French ship waiting off the coast.

Over the weekend, the head of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) pleaded for the safety of the country's children, whom she feared were being swept up in Liberia's ongoing civil unrest.

"As heavy fighting forces thousands of civilians to flee the shelter of camps on the outskirts of Monrovia, we are deeply troubled about the plight of Liberian children and the civilian population caught up in the mayhem," UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said, calling on the warring parties to protect children from harm.

UNICEF said that the current fighting has only exacerbated the collective effects of years of displacement and social insecurity, which have left the Liberian economy and basic social services devastated, and the employment rate at about 85 per cent. After nearly 14 years of conflict, most teenagers have no idea what it means to live in peace.

Listen to UN Radio report

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