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W Africa Wars Leave 1M Displaced

May 2, 2001

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Fighting in the West African nations of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone has displaced more than 1 million people, many beyond the reach of international aid organizations, a U.N. official said Wednesday.

While some of those who fled the fighting have begun returning to their homes in Sierra Leone, the situation in the other two nations was worsening, said Carolyn McAskie, U.N. deputy emergency relief coordinator.

About 500,000 people have sought shelter in neighboring countries, while 750,000 more were displaced within their own homelands due to long-running insurgencies, she said.

``It’s not a happy state at all,″ McAskie told reporters after returning from a trip to the region.

Despite a lull in the fighting in Sierra Leone, many refugees were unable to return because the camps and transit centers that help repatriate displaced people were overflowing and ``at breaking point,″ she said.

Security fears are keeping aid organizations from reaching many refugees, McAskie said.

The United Nations had appealed for $65 million for the region but only a few million dollars have been collected, she said.

Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are caught up in a regional conflict, with each side saying the other is to blame.

Last Friday, the U.N. Security Council voted to send more peacekeeping troops to Sierra Leone to help the government re-establish authority and end the country’s nine-year civil war. The Sierra Leone mission, with a new maximum strength of 17,500 troops, is the largest U.N. peacekeeping operation.

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