75,000 refugees have fled Ivory Coast: UNHCR

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The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday that at least 75,000 Ivorians have fled to Liberia, half of them in nearly two weeks as clashes between rival presidential factions in Ivory Coast intensified.

An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people are also displaced in the Ivorian city of Abidjan while another 70,000 have fled their homes within the west of the country, according to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

"The humanitarian and protection needs are growing fast," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said.

"The number of Ivorians fleeing into eastern Liberia has also risen dramatically," he told journalists.

"UNHCR has so far registered some 75,000 refugees, of whom around half have arrived since February 24."

The government and other agencies reported another 7,000 arrivals, Edwards said.

Whole families were now fleeing across the border, whereas at the beginning of the unrest in December most of the refugees were women and children, according to the UNHCR.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said aid workers had "been targeted" in the west of the country.

"I was informed that as of this morning our international staff have had to to be evacuated from Duekoue and Guiglo because of the security situation," IOM spokeswoman Jemini Pandya said.

Fighting flared up again in Abidjan on Monday, where three people were killed and houses set alight, and in the west, forcing more people to flee, according to officials and residents.

The African Union has invited Laurent Gbagbo for talks with his rival for the presidency, Alassane Ouattara, to end a dispute that has descended into deadly violence since disputed presidential elections last November.

The United Nations says more than 370 people have been killed in the unrest since late last year.

© 2011 AFP

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