U.N. Relocating African Refugees

The United Nations refugee agency has begun relocating the first of tens of thousands of Liberian and Sierra Leonean refugees from camps near Guinea's volatile southwestern border.

Twelve trucks escorted by the Guinean army were sent Tuesday to collect about 370 refugees from Nyaedou camp, about 10 miles north of the Liberian border in West Africa.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees says the refugees are being taken to a new site at Albadaria, about 110 miles farther north, where two camps have been prepared to accommodate up to 60,000 people.

Additional trucks are expected over the next month to collect the rest of the refugees at the Nyaedou camp.

"The 30,000 refugees in Nyaedou are very anxious to be moved further away from the border, following attacks on other camps in the area last December and continuing fighting in the region," said UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski, at a news conference in Geneva.

UNHCR also wants to move about 180,000 Liberian and Sierra Leonean refugees and an additional 70,000 Guineans, stranded in the nearby Parrot's Beak region which juts into Sierra Leone.

Janowski says continued military activity there has so far prevented any evacuation and has forced some aid workers to abandon the camps in that area.

The agency warns the situation in those camps is a serious humanitarian emergency.

"UNHCR is gravely concerned about the humanitarian situation in Parrot's Beak, which has received no significant aid in months," said Janowski.

Who is involved in the fighting has not been independently confirmed. Guinea accuses Liberia of backing cross-border raids by Sierra Leonean rebels and Guinean dissidents. Liberia claims Guinea is backing rebels who are fighting government forces in the north of its territory.

West African leaders have agreed to deploy a 1,676-member military force along the troubled borders to prevent the entire region from sliding into instability.

The International Rescue Committee, a refugee aid organization, estimates that the number of African refugees in the Guinea region is close to 500,000.

Sierra Leone continues to be marked by violence despite the July 1999 signing of a peace agreement between the government and rebel forces.

Liberia also suffered the ravages of civil war, finally signing a peace agreement in 1996, but its 7-year-long conflict prompted half a million Liberians to flee, to Guinea and the Ivory Coast.

Guinea has troubles of its own, with violence erupting last September in the southeast, forcing many to flee their homes.

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