10,000 Refugees Protest, Complaining of Lack of Food
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) _ Ten thousand refugees from Sierra Leone’s civil war protested at a tent city Wednesday, accusing a U.N. aid agency of failing to provide enough food.
``U.N. _ We want peace, but we want food,″ read one sign at the protest at the Clay Factory refugee camp in an abandoned clay factory in Freetown, capital of the West African nation.
The camp is sponsored by UNICEF, other relief agencies and the military government, which has been fighting for more than four years against rebels who accuse it of corruption.
About 10,000 people have been killed in the war and about a third of the nation’s 4.5 million people have fled to refugee camps.
Many of the refugees in the camps have not been receiving food for the last three months, said the demonstrators. They marched to the U.N. headquarters where officials were holding an emergency meeting about the lack of food.
``We prefer to go back to the bush in the provinces and die in the hands of rebels rather than die of hunger in the displaced camp in Freetown,″ said Vandi Sanoh, a spokesman for the demonstrators.
The demonstrators blamed the U.N. World Food Program. They said they were told the agency was no longer supplying the camp because of the growing number of people who can not prove they are victims of the war.
World Food Program officials said the problem began when the government appointed village chiefs to register refugees.
The chiefs submitted lists that indicated there were about 600,000 refugees in Freetown alone, although the agency’s records showed there were only 100,000. Officials said some of the lists falsely claimed as many as 500 people per household.
``Our regulations do not allow us to distribute food to unverified people,″ said Elizabeth Lwanga, coordinator of the U.N. program in Sierra Leone. ``Our resources are not enough and the food is just not coming. We really have an emergency and tragedy on our hands.″
The Revolutionary United Front began fighting in 1991, accusing the government of corruption. After junior military officers sieged power in 1992, the rebels continued fighting, saying the new regime was as corrupt as the old civilian one.