Thousands displaced by fighting in northern Lofa

Paris- For the past two weeks, thousands of people have been fleeing the fighting in Liberia's northern Lofa County, heading for the Gbarnga region, in the center of the country. Similar population movements had taken place in previous weeks, heading toward Jenne Manna, in the southwestern part of the region. A total of 3,500 people have arrived there.

According to eye-witness accounts provided by some of those displaced, northern Lofa has, in recent months, seen fighting between armed groups and government forces. The entire region (which used to have a population of around 50,000) is presently inaccessible by aid organizations. When the on-site MSF team last visited the region, in mid-January, the situation was already critical as some local people had fled into the surrounding bush country. Since then, the hospitals at Foya, Kolahun and Voinjama have been destroyed or partially burned.

Among the 10,000 people who have arrived at Gbarnga, most are showing signs of physical weakness - some of them are suffering from diarrhea. After leaving their native villages three weeks ago, they were obliged to walk for several days through the forest. Furthermore, hundreds of people are still blocked at the Saint Paul Bridge, close to Gbarnga.

Although authorization to cross the bridge was given last week, only women, children and the elderly are effectively being allowed to cross, under the supervision of Liberian soldiers. In an effort to assist those displaced, and in the expectation of further population movements, MSF has decided to strengthen its operations in the region by sending a cargo plane carrying 30 tonnes of emergency medical supplies and logistical equipment to Monrovia.

MSF's on-site teams are setting up medical facilities for those who have arrived at Gbalatuah and Cari, close to Gbarnga, where a camp has been set. Health services are also being offered at the Jenne Manna camp set up by MSF.