- A French military vessel, assisted by helicopters, today evacuated around 500 Western citizens, including aid workers, from the embattled Liberian capital. Rebels continue their attack on Monrovia, while Liberian civilians are fleeing to the east of the city.
According to a statement by the French Foreign Ministry today, "a Navy TCD-type vessel, the Orage, on its usual mission in the Gulf of Guinea where it makes regular patrols, has been proceeding since the early morning of June 9 to evacuate nationals of the French and international community in Monrovia who have gathered at the sites of the European delegation and the American Embassy."
The fighting in and around Monrovia is reported to go on, despite the three-day ceasefire announced by the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel group yesterday. LURD said it went for the ceasefire to avoid a "bloodbath" in Monrovia and allow President Charles Taylor to resign, as he had promised in the Accra peace talks.
Fighting in Monrovia during the weekend has led to the slaughtering of several hundred combatants and civilians caught in the crossfire. Monrovia is full with refugees that have fled the city's surroundings and now have few places to go. Thousands of Monrovia civilians are however reported to be fleeing to the east of the city, where there still is no fighting.
The international community meanwhile is "extremely concerned" over the continued fighting and the humanitarian situation in Liberia. The UN Security Council is due to meet on this evening to discuss the deteriorating situation in the Liberian capital.
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," UN 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 said he was troubled not only by the severe effect the intensified fighting is having on the Liberian capital's more than one million inhabitants, he was 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 percent of Liberia. "Today, virtually none of Liberia's more than 3 million people, already traumatised 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 UN Secretary-General also urged the parties to prevent looting of humanitarian assets and property, which is reported to be widespread. "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, Mr Annan's Representative for Liberia, Abou Moussa, continues to engage informally with the parties to the stalled 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 and US nationals, to be taken out of the city to the French warship 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' 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 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.
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