Liberian refugees face starvation as aid stops after thefts by rebels




Mark Huband in Monrovia

The Guardian, 3 April 1992

Thousands of Liberians face starvation after the suspension of international aid following the harassment of relief workers and the theft of vehicles and supplies.

Rebel forces of the National Patriot Front of Liberia (NPFL) loyal to Charles Taylor have stolen 18 vehicles, often at gunpoint, from aid workers. Rice supplies being transported to the worst hit areas of the country after the devastating two-year civil war have also been plundered. Medicines requiring refrigeration have been ruined when rebels have insisted on opening the containers in which they are being transported.

Fears for the security of relief workers have led to food aid being suspended in parts of the country. Relief workers have been detained on spying charges on numerous occasions by the rebels, the most recent being the arrest of two elderly Americans this week.

Lutheran World Service, one of the biggest relief agencies operating in the country, has now suspended its operations in NPFL territory. An £80 million United Nations programme of general food distribution is also on hold.

All the aid agencies, including the UN, have grounded their field staff in the capital, Monrovia, the only part of the country not under rebel control.

In western Liberia, where NPFL forces have been fighting an incursion by troops loyal to the murdered Liberian president, Samuel Doe, thousands of refugees fleeing fighting in neighbouring Sierra Leone have been without regular food aid since last September.

As well as the harassment and danger to relief workers, the rebels have put deliberate bureaucratic hurdles in the way of the relief programme. This week the NPFL insisted all relief workers apply for special driving licences. They have also insisted on the registration of all relief vehicles and radios.


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