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Aid shipped to refugees as turmoil in Ivory Coast continues

Five leaders from the African Union (AU) are to form a panel to discuss the deadlock in Ivory Coast. The presidents of South Africa, Tanzania, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad are charged with finding “proposals for a way out of the crisis” and will be travelling to Ivory Coast to negotiate a peaceful settlement within the next month.

The AU has already recognised Alassane Ouattara as the winner of the presidential election and asked the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, to step down. However, Mr Gbagbo has indicated he has no intention of relinquishing his position, citing electoral fraud in the north of the country as the reason for overturning the results.

Most countries have already recognised Mr Ouattara as president-elect. However, a few cracks have appeared in the unity of African leaders, though the head of the The Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) said there would be “no question of recognising Mr Gbagbo as winner”. The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, spoke to African leaders and AU officials at the weekend. He rejected the need for a recount of votes in Ivory Coast and called on all countries to “preserve our unified position, act together and stand firm against Mr Gbagbo’s attempt to hang onto power through the use of force”.

Meanwhile Ivorian refugees continue to pour into Liberia to escape the violence and growing atmosphere of fear in their own country. To help provide for these displaced people, the United Nations’ Agency for Refugees (UNHCR) chartered a second cargo plane to airlift aid to the Liberian capital of Monrovia at the weekend. The plane was carrying 83 tonnes of supplies, including 17,000 blankets, 11,400 plastic mats, 11,400 drinking cans and 5,700 kitchen sets and tarpaulins.

All these items will be transported to eastern Liberia, where over 31,000 refugees are currently living. The majority of the displaced have taken refuge in 26 Liberian villages along the border. Most refugees are women and children who have been taken in by the villagers of Nimba county. The Liberian communities have been showing their gratitude for the shelter given to them by Ivory Coast families during the Liberian civil war. However, dealing with such a huge influx of refugees, the Liberians are in desperate need of outside assistance. A spokesperson for UNHCR in Liberia said “we are determined to help alleviate the suffering of Ivorians, while assisting the Liberian communities that have welcomed them with open arms and shared their meagre resources”. UNHCR is also constructing a temporary camp at Bahn to house more refugees, as increasing numbers of those fleeing Ivory Coast are expected to overwhelm their generous hosts.

By Laurinda Luffman for SOS Children