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CWS Writes U.S. State Department as Liberians' Cries for Help Get Louder
Second CWS Aid Airlift Reaches Liberia for Distribution as Soon as Security is Assured
June 10, 2003, New York City - Church World Service, the global humanitarian agency of the National Council of Churches' 36 member communions, today (June 10) issued an urgent appeal to the United States government to help find a comprehensive solution to Liberias 13-year-old civil war and to provide generous humanitarian aid in Liberias increasingly desperate situation, which has displaced hundreds of thousands of people nationwide.
In a letter to Walter Kansteiner, U.S. State Department Undersecretary for Africa, Church World Service Executive Director John L. McCullough cited fresh reports from Liberian church leaders. They describe the suffering as tens of thousands more Liberians were displaced this past weekend by fighting between government and rebel troops that reached into the very suburbs of the capital city of Monrovia.
The Rev. McCullough expressed his fear "that in the chaos of Monrovia humanitarian conditions will deteriorate and delivery of humanitarian aid will be jeopardized, further deepening the misery of people who already have suffered too long."
He urged the U.S. government to press for deployment of an African stabilization force to put an immediate end to the looting and killings; to participate actively in the International Contact Group in helping find a comprehensive solution to the civil war, and to "set an excellent example to the international community by providing generous humanitarian aid both bilaterally and through the World Food Program."
For its part, in its latest response to emergency needs in Liberia, Church World Service last week airlifted 1,500 blankets, 3,984 cans of processed beef, 1,000 personal hygiene kits and 4,300 pounds of rice for distribution by two CWS partners - Concerned Christian Community and the YMCA - to Liberians displaced by the war.
The goods arrived safely and will be brought in from the airport as soon as security can be assured, the Rev. Kortu K. Brown, Director of Concerned Christian Community, wrote today (June 10) from Monrovia. He indicated that at least some of the aid would be distributed among the estimated 10,000 persons who have taken refuge in Monrovias main stadium in the east of the city. Others are sheltering in open buildings, including schools, he reported.
A similar CWS aid shipment in mid-April helped nearly 3,600 pregnant and nursing mothers, children and elderly in six internally displaced persons camps near Monrovia.
"Check to see if you can send more help," the Rev. Brown wrote to CWS. Commented Donna Derr, CWS Associate Director for Emergency Response, "Humanitarian aid providers are having to prioritize need amongst tens of thousands of people, all of whom are in incredibly dire circumstances."
Another report came to CWS on June 8 from Benjamin D. Lartey, General Secretary of the Liberian Council of Churches, who described "not only an alarming, but an unbelievable situation" in Monrovia. "If nothing is urgently done, Monrovia and its environs could witness a bloodbath and genocide."
Emotion jumps off the pages of Mr. Larteys update to CWS and other partners. "I bring this report to you all with a heavy heart and tears filled eyes," he wrote. "The fighting has seriously escalated between government forces and LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy - a rebel force).
"Hundreds of thousands of Liberians are on the move with their belongings. We are in the raining season, people are in the rain. Serious concern for the children! If the present situation is not reversed, very soon food and medications will be depleted." Mr. Larteys own home area was looted but his family managed to escape to central Monrovia.
The weekends fierce fighting contrasted starkly with the start of long-awaited peace talks in Ghana on June 4. Liberias President Charles Taylor, addressing the opening session, indicated his willingness to step down from the presidency by the end of the year, but there were conflicting reports concerning under what conditions he would do so.
Also on June 4, a United Nations-backed Special Court in Sierra Leone unsealed its indictment accusing Mr. Taylor of responsibility for war crimes committed by rebel forces during the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor abruptly left the peace talks and flew back to Monrovia, where he arrested his Vice President, Moses Blah, accusing him of attempting a coup.
When news of the indictment reached Monrovia, the capital city "went amok," reported the Rev. Brown. "Human and vehicular traffic got off track in all directions" as people ran home from fear of violence. The streets regained some measure of calm, but then on Thursday fighting erupted in Monrovias western suburbs and continued through the weekend.
In the chaos, "Monrovia city center remained shuttered up, with no water or electricity and all petrol stations closed," the U.N. agency Irin reported late Monday. "The price of a 50 kg bag of rice on the black market nearly doubled from US$20 to between $30 and $40." French special forces on Monday airlifted more than 500 foreigners from 38 nations, among them 100 Americans, to a ship off the coast.
U.N. relief agencies have evacuated staff and suspended deliveries of desperately needed supplies, the U.N. news service reported today (June 10). U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and the U.N. Security Council have called for a halt to hostilities in Liberia, and a team from the Economic Community of West African States was in Liberia today to press for a ceasefire.
Liberians 2.7 million citizens continue to pin their hopes on the peace talks in Ghana, CWS partners reported. CWS has funded five Liberian church leaders participation in the current talks, which result in large part from the persistent diplomacy of the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia, comprising the Liberian Council of Churches and the National Muslim Council of Liberia.
Mr. Lartey, who is at the talks, wrote on Sunday (June 8), "We dont know how long we will be in Ghana. What we do know is that we shall not leave until we find a way forward to end the crisis. Priority is a cease-fire and the deployment of an international force in Liberia."
"We are praying for the peace talks," the Rev. Brown wrote today, "because Liberia cant afford this - thousands of people scattered all over the place walking helter skelter trying to find lodging, food and medicare, etc." He added, "There is a need for the churches around the world to continue to stand with the church in Liberia. These are difficult times after about 13 years of unabated violence. Something has to be done now to call a stop to this madness. We count on your prayers and support."
Persons wishing to contribute through CWS may do so by writing Church World Service, Attn. Assistance for Liberia IDPs, Refugees, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515. Phone pledges/credit card donations: 1-800-297-1516. On-line contributions: www.churchworldservice.org
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