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U.N. Flying Tons of Food Into Liberia

The high-energy biscuits will be distributed to hundreds of thousands of refugees in the capital and to hospitals that are short of supplies.

August 04, 2003|From Reuters

ROME — The United Nations food aid agency has launched an emergency operation to fly food into the Liberian capital of Monrovia, where hundreds of thousands of people desperately need assistance.

The first consignment of half a ton of high-energy biscuits, which arrived in the city Saturday from Sierra Leone, is enough to provide an emergency ration to about 4,000 people, the U.N. World Food Program said Sunday.

An additional 11 1/2 tons will be flown in over the next few days, the Rome-based agency said.

"This is the first time WFP has been able to move food into Monrovia since the latest fighting erupted and will help us to save the lives of thousands of malnourished people," said Manuel Aranda da Silva, WFP's regional director for West Africa.

The 12 tons of biscuits will be distributed by WFP and other aid groups to the most vulnerable people in Monrovia, including thousands of the displaced who have set up temporary camps close to the airport.

Some of the food will be sent to hospitals in the city that are critically short of supplies and to camps for internally displaced people in the interior, which have not received any aid since June.

WFP urged both sides in the conflict to agree to the establishment of a secure humanitarian corridor across the front line so that relief supplies can start moving immediately.

The aid announcement came on a day of relatively light fighting in Monrovia between President Charles Taylor's forces and rebels.

Sporadic bursts of gunfire rang out around two fiercely contested bridges near the rebel-held port on the day before Nigerian peacekeeping troops were scheduled to deploy.

Since the start of June, three attacks on Monrovia by the largest rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, have left 2,000 people dead.

About 300 peacekeepers are due in Monrovia today, and advance troops Sunday were looking for places they could camp.

A small West African assessment team laying the groundwork for the peacekeepers gathered generators, food and fuel. Some of the goods were provided by U.S. suppliers through an already-announced $10-million U.S. support contract for the mission, said Col. Theophilus Tawiah of Ghana, the force's chief of staff.

On Saturday, Taylor said he would step down next Monday -- the first time he has set a definite date to hand over control. But he was vague about his departure from the country.

Taylor at one point accepted an offer of asylum from Nigeria.

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