UN relief activities resume in Liberia after clashes in capital

In a briefing in Geneva, Millicent Mutuli, spokesperson for the Office of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said: “The situation in the capital has now calmed. Peacekeepers are patrolling the streets…After a one-day halt, we are resuming our activities to ease conditions in camps for the internally displaced people (IDPs) in Monrovia.”In a separate report, the UN’s population agency said that it had recently started regaining access to some war-torn areas and found conditions to be poor.Wednesday’s violence started when groups loyal to Sekou Conneh, leader of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), one of two main rebel groups, were detained when they tried to enter the city to meet President Moses Blah with more than an agreed upon number of vehicles. One LURD soldier threw a grenade and government soldiers opened fire. Sporadic shooting continued throughout the night.Newly minted United Nations peacekeepers, members of a 3,500-strong West African force that donned the blue berets of the United Nations only Wednesday, were credited with bringing calm to the capital. At full strength, the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) will reach a total of 16,000 police and troops and be stationed throughout the country.Ms. Mutuli said, “Despite the disturbances this week in Monrovia, we are optimistic that while the situation remains fragile the situation will further improve with the deployment of peacekeepers across the country.”Jacques Paul Klein, the head of UNMIL, said in a statement issued Thursday that the UN force, “strongly reminds all parties to observe the ceasefire and desist from engaging in any acts which might derail the peace process.”The government and the rebels signed a ceasefire in August.The UN Population Fund (UNFPA), in a report issued in New York today, said that the recent fighting, including skirmishes that broke out after the signing of the August agreement, was “worsening an already severe humanitarian crisis, that has pushed maternal and infant mortality to levels not seen for decades.”UNFPA said, “We are only now regaining access to populations that have been denied basic health services for years.”The agency said it was “particularly concerned about the spread of HIV/AIDS due to widespread rape by marauding fighters, lack of safe blood supply for transfusions and the instability and chaos caused by years of massive population movements, both with Liberia and to and from neighbouring countries with high HIV prevalence rates.”