Liberia closes border with Cote d'Ivoire after cross-border attackBy KEMO CHAM and AFP | Sunday, June 10 2012 at 09:25
Under mounting pressure, Liberia on Saturday announced it was closing its border with neighbouring Ivory Coast following a fatal attack on UN peacekeepers.
Seven Nigerien UN peacekeepers died in the attack on Friday which also claimed the lives of eight civilians and an Ivorian soldier.
Both the UN and the Ivorian government believe the attackers came from Liberia.
Information Minister Lewis Browne said Liberia was closing it borders amidst investigations to determine the origin of those responsible for the attack.
"The first measure will be the immediate closure of the Liberian side of the border…" he told journalists in Monrovia on Saturday.
He said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had ordered the immediate deployment of Liberian troops along the border.
The Ivorians prefer a joint military operation with the Liberians. But there appears to be disagreement as to the nature and timing of any such operation.
At the beginning of the week, the US-based Human Rights Watch accused Liberia of ignoring militias loyal to former President Laurent Gbagbo who are accused of mounting attacks from inside Liberia.
Although Liberia denies that, it has said it was working on a joint operation with Cote d’Ivoire to improve security along the border.
Ivorian Defence minister Paul Koffi Koffi said Saturday that the attack on Friday highlighted the need for Ivorian troops to carry out cross-border operations in Liberia to improve security.
"These people came from the other side of the border. They are militias and mercenaries," said Koffi Koffi.
"We must go to the other side of the border to establish a security zone. We will clean up and secure the zone. This will be done, of course, with the agreement of the two countries."
But his Liberian counterpart, Brownie Samukai, was reported saying there were no immediate plans for Ivorian troops to deploy inside Liberia.
UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon on Friday condemned the raid and urged the two neighbouring countries to work towards containing and bringing to book the perpetrators.
Meanwhile, thousands of civilians in Cote d'Ivoire have fled their homes following the Friday attacks, a UN official and residents said.
Aid agencies are expecting around 4,000 displaced people who are fleeing the affected villages.
Liberia has promised that its move to close the border would not affect humanitarian work in the area.
"Hundreds of people have arrived in Tai, and one can imagine that thousands of others are on the road," UN spokeswoman Anouk Desgroseilliers said, adding that 35 families had crossed the border into Liberia to seek safety there.
"It's real panic here," mayor Desire Gnonkonte told AFP by phone from Tai. "People are taking little bundles and fleeing on foot."
Ange Joelle, a young woman newly arrived at Glaro Ubor village in eastern Liberia said she had "walked through the bush with my child on my back.
"I don't know where the rest of my family is." she added.
Desgroseilliers said aid workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Danish Refugee Council and local groups were on site to assist those displaced, including supplying food and water.
Niger Justice Minister and government spokesman Marou Amadou expressed the government's shock at the deaths of the peacekeepers.
"All measures should be taken to see that this serious act does not go unpunished," he said, adding that the 900-strong Niger contingent would nevertheless continue its work with ONUCI.
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