I.Coast crisis risks destabilising west Africa: UNHCR

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The UN refugee chief warned Tuesday that Ivory Coast's political conflict could destabilise the entire west Africa region, and that it has generated new ethnic tensions that could last.

The conflict, particularly violence in west Ivory Coast can "contribute to inter-ethnic tensions that of course will last," said Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, warning that they could also spill over to neighbouring Liberia.

"The area where most of the refugees came to, Nimba county, is an area that has been quite related to the past civil war. There are two ethnic groups in Liberia that are parallel to the ethnic groups in Cote d'Ivoire," noted Guterres.

"It is absolutely necessary to support Liberia in order to avoid any kind of destablisation that the situation in Cote d'Ivoire might have over" Liberia's peacebuilding efforts, stressed Guterres.

He also warned that the conflict could spread further across the region.

"The prolongation of this conflict in Cote d'Ivoire could have a major destabilising effect in the whole of west Africa, not only in Liberia," said Guterres.

He pointed out for instance that the conflict would concern countries like Burkina Faso, as some three million foreign workers, many of them from Burkina Faso, are in Ivory Coast.

UN aid chief Valerie Amos also warned on Sunday of the conflict's impact on Liberia, where about 130,000 Ivorians people have fled in recent months.

Liberia's 14-year civil war ended in 2003, leaving about 250,000 people dead and its government is fearful that armed Liberian mercenaries fighting in Ivory Coast, mainly for strongman Laurent Gbagbo, could return.

© 2011 AFP

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