In Liberia, Signs of Trouble Resurfacing

Rebels Reported Active; Refugees Abound

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MONROVIA, Liberia, OCT. 7, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Government forces say that members of the rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy have violated the cease-fire and resumed military operations in the northeast near Gbarnga.



"The news does not surprise me," Father Mauro Armanino, general superior of the Society of African Missions, told the Missionary Service News Agency. "They are all attempting to gain as much territory as possible before the complete deployment of the United Nations peacekeepers."

Father Armanino is one of the few foreigners who remained in Liberia throughout the nation's recent crisis. He said the ongoing struggle for territory has resulted in thousands of refugees.

"Along the road that goes from Monrovia to Katata, 50 kilometers north of the capital, you would be shocked at the dozens of new camps for the displaced set up over the past weeks," the priest said.

"There are thousands of people who spend most of their existence on the run, fleeing first from the rural areas and then from their 'liberators,' members of the regular forces who turned out to be bandits in search of loot," he said. "Or they are displaced because they are running away from other camps, abandoned out of fear of new attacks."

According to the 51-year-old Italian missionary, camping out has also become a way to acquire visibility.

"Becoming a part of one of these camps appears to be the only system to acquire IDP -- Internally Displaced People -- status," he said. "It may seem only a status, but actually it is the only way not to be ignored by the authorities and to be recognized at least by international humanitarian groups for the distribution of aid."

The long column of new settlements does not only include the displaced headed toward Monrovia: A similar column runs in the other direction.

"The city has stopped providing food for the … refugees, in a move to compel the people to head back to their areas of origin," Father Armanino said. But the people are "afraid, hearing and seeing with their own eyes that security is still far" off, he added.

Following the nation's 14-year civil war, a U.N. peace contingent is widely expected to be deployed. It would work with forces under the aegis of the Economic Community of West African States to prevent new crises.