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Heavy fighting near Liberian border
by Staff Writers
Monrovia, Liberia (UPI) Aug 15, 2012

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

Ivorian government forces have clashed with Liberian rebels near the countries' border.

The fighting, which occurred in Liberia's Grand Gedeh County, began Monday around the western Ivory Coast town of Touloupleu. The attack was the latest in a series of raids on police and army installations and the U.N. mission in Ivory Coast.

Refugees fleeing into Liberia said militants apparently outnumbered government troops, with heavy causalities reported on both sides. Witnesses said gunfire could be heard everywhere.

Following several hours of gun battle, the attackers, believed to Liberian militia allied to former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo, captured the Pehkan Military Barracks.

Among the refugees were Liberians were awaiting action by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugee repatriation program, who were reportedly caught between the fighting forces, New Dawn newspaper reported Tuesday.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Liberian security source told New Dawn: "We also saw several civilians fleeing. They are all here in Toe Town. The Emergency Response Unit of the Liberia National Police and soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia have been deployed at the border."

The UNHCR is assisting to repatriate refugees by providing them with money to restart their lives and is attempting to provide employment training and assistance in obtaining the relevant documents for those who wish to remain in the Ivory Coast.

The recent clashes have raised tensions, however, and residents of the decade-old "transit" center in Tabou in the Ivory Coast's Bas-Sassandra region have spoken about the increasing unrest.

Complicating the issue, there are strong ties between the Krahn ethnic group in eastern Liberia and the Guere in western Ivory Coast.

The severe violence in western Ivory Coast, including summary executions, rapes and brutal abductions, has been documented in reports by international humanitarian groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Concerns among the refugees and international organizations were heightened following the killing of seven U.N. peacekeepers and a dozen civilians June 8 near Tai in southwestern Ivory Coast. No one has claimed responsibility for the killings.

Groups ranging from militias supporting Gbagbo, Liberian mercenaries, renegade militias and even bandits have all been blamed.

Further complicating the issue, senior foreign aid officials acknowledge that Operation Restore Hope, the first large-scale security operation since the 2003 departure of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, has caused international aid agencies to adapt to the new situation by consulting with Liberian governmental organizations, including the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defense and the senior command of the Armed Forces of Liberia.

A further element is that the UNHCR and its local counterpart, the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission, has overseen an ongoing repatriation of Ivory Coast refugees back to their home country. Ivory Coast refugees still remaining in Liberia now reportedly number approximately 70,000, down from a previous peak of over 200,000.

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