Ivorian refugees flee to Liberian border towns

The United Nations is preparing for the number to double to 30,000.

Ivorian refugees flee to Liberian border towns

Gluee Teah walked through the jungle for a day and crossed a river to escape the political turmoil that is gripping Ivory Coast, burdened by her two young daughters and an unborn child.

"I am nine months pregnant," she said, as her three-year-old daughter sucked on the tattered edge of her dress in this Liberian border town. "There is not much I can do. Who will help me take care of my children?"

Teah is among the more than 16,000 Ivorians who have fled their country to neighbouring Liberia since a Nov. 28 election, fearing that an ugly dispute over who won the vote will rekindle the civil war of 2002-03.

The United Nations is preparing for the number to double to 30,000. It is airlifting food from emergency stocks, readying shelters, and racing to improve access to clean water to prevent the spread of disease.

But the refugees arriving in their hundreds each day say many are sleeping in the open and have little to eat.

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(Supporters of Ivory Coast's incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo hold aloft an Ivory Coast national flag during a rally in Yopougon, Abidjan.)

"We are appealing to the international community to help us with food and shelter," said Mcgbein Sammie Atu, appointed spokesman for the refugees in Old Luguatuo. "We have no food. How do you expect us to live?"

Laurent Gbagbo has refused to give in to international pressure to step down after last month's election in Ivory Coast despite provisional results showing his rival Alassane Ouattara with an eight percentage-point win.

West African regional bloc ECOWAS has threatened to oust him by force if he doesn't leave quietly, and the rebels still holding Ivory Coast's north after the civil war have said they are ready to fight.

"On the brink of genocide"

A Ouattara-appointed ambassador to the United Nations said this week the country is on the "brink of genocide".

While there have been no reports of refugees moving into other Ivory Coast neighbours, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent said on Thursday it was seeking donations to help prepare for the possibility.

"Given the continued political crisis, an influx of people is also possible in other countries bordering Cote d'Ivoire, such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Ghana," it said.

The standoff turned violent in mid-December when pro-Ouattara marchers tried to seize the state broadcasting building and clashed with security forces loyal to Gbagbo in a confrontation that left at least 20 people dead.

Another 150 have died since, according to the UN, which has condemned evidence of human rights abuses, including killings, torture and kidnappings.

Gbagbo has accused western powers of orchestrating a conspiracy against him, after the nation's top court -- run by one of his allies -- overturned the provisional elections results to give him a victory.

In the nearby Liberian border town of Duoplay, dozens of Ivorian refugees huddled next to a radio, anxious for news from home.

At a U.N. refugee registration centre, officials said hundreds of people were arriving daily, putting strain on local food and water resources.

A refugee crisis due to upheaval in Ivory Coast could destabilise a region trying to heal from three civil wars in a decade.


Agencies

Last Mod: 30 Aralık 2010, 14:24
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