DAKAR (AlertNet) – The humanitarian situation is deteriorating in parts of western Ivory Coast following renewed violence that has forced thousands of people to flee their villages, the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) warned on Friday.
More than 4,000 people have fled their homes along the Liberian border to seek refuge in the town of Tai as cross-border attacks from Liberia-based militias have intensified in areas around Tai and Zoubou, MSF said in a statement.
One such attack against a joint patrol of the Ivorian armed forces (FRCI) and United Nations peacekeepers (UNOCI) killed seven peacekeepers from Niger and at least 10 civilians on June 8.
“The situation is very disturbing, people are afraid and they are fleeing their villages,” said Issiaka Abdou, head of the MSF mission in Ivory Coast.
“We are also concerned that people will have no access to health care because health centres in this region are already few and not very well equipped and the health personnel have fled alongside the population due to the insecurity,” he added.
Aid workers cannot reach civilians in need of assistance due to the prevailing insecurity in this forested zone of the country that also suffers from lack of good roads.
“We rely on an ambulance system set up by the Red Cross since we cannot fetch the wounded in the event of fighting,” Abdou said.
MSF says it has scaled up its response this week at the only hospital in the Tai area, where it has provided supplies and set up a system for referral to a bigger hospital in the town of Duekue.
The Tai hospital has only 20 beds and is not equipped with a surgical unit to handle severe gunshot wounds.
The situation highlights simmering tensions and security threats in the west of Ivory Coast despite a year of progress that stabilised much of the rest of the country after months of post-election violence last year.
Alassane Ouattara won a 2010 election but only came to power following four months of violence that killed thousands after incumbent Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede.
Thousands of pro-Gbagbo fighters and Liberian mercenaries, who fought on behalf of the ex-president, slipped across the border into Liberia following Gbagbo's capture in April 2011.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has said those same forces are launching cross-border raids. Ivory Coast's government said the gunmen who killed the peacekeepers and 10 civilians came from Liberia. Monrovia has not confirmed these reports.
(Editing by Lisa Anderson)