GENEVA (Reuters) - An estimated 450,000 people have been uprooted by growing conflict in Ivory Coast, including tens of thousands who fled to Liberia, aid agencies said on Tuesday.
In the capital, Abidjan, some 300,000 people are displaced, mainly because of fighting between rival forces in the Abobo district, the United Nations refugee agency said.
The Abidjan suburb is ruled by rebels supporting Alassane Outtara, whom U.N.-certified results show to have won the November presidential election against incumbent Laurent Gbagbo. Gbagbo, who has defied calls to step down, moved to take the cocoa sector into state hands, triggering alarm on Tuesday about supplies in the world’s top grower.
“Displacement from the Cote d’Ivoire crisis has reached alarming proportions,” Jemini Pandya, spokeswoman of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), told a briefing.
Humanitarian and protection needs in the country are growing fast, Adrian Edwards of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said. “Persistent reports that Liberian mercenaries are being brought in to join the fighting is fueling distrust,” he added.
Some 70,000 Ivorians are also internally displaced in the west, after fleeing fighting there, the spokesman added.
The Geneva-based IOM, which works with the United Nations and is the only aid agency to have still been operating in the west, pulled out its international staff from Douekoue and Guiglo on Tuesday due to insecurity, Pandya said.
“The number of Ivorians fleeing into eastern Liberia has also risen dramatically,” Edwards said.
Some 75,000 Ivorian refugees have been registered so far in Liberia, half of them in the past 10 days, he said.
“This sudden influx is placing enormous strains on local communities and abilities of aid organizations to help,” he said. There was a critical water and sanitation situation in Buutuo Town, capital of Nimba county in eastern Liberia.
Cases of diarrhea and malaria, as well as food shortages have been recorded there, the UNHCR spokesman said.