German medical staff from the relief agency Cap Anamur has pulled out of the remote mining town of Bong Mines, 99 km northwest of the capital Monrovia in central Liberia, following constant harassment and intimidation by former government soldiers.
Cap Anamur said in a statement that their five-strong team had been providing primary health care to women and children at the Bong Mines Hospital since November. However, it was forced to withdraw earlier this week following several instances of robbery and acts of intimidation by gunmen who fought for former president, Charles Taylor.
"Cap Anamur has been risking the lives of its members working in Bong Mines Hospital for the past seven months and the continuous absence of UNMIL (peacekeeping troops) in the town has made our staff vulnerable to attacks", the statement said.
The German medical relief agency said it would only send expatriate staff back to the area once the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) had fully deployed peacekeeping troops in Bong Town.
"As we await this decision on the part of UNMIL, we will still support the local staff at the hospital. We will also continue our activities in the Monrovia area," it added.
UNMIL spokeswoman Margaret Novicki told IRIN on Friday that she could not comment on the situation until she had read Cap Anamur’s statement. It was issued on Wednesday and published in full by the Monrovia daily newspaper The Analyst on Friday.
The five-member team pulled out of Bong Mines comprised one surgeon, a nurse, a midwife, a technician and one medical coordinator.
Cap Anamur said they had been the target of several armed robberies, during which passports, money and mobile phones were stolen.
"One of such incidents occurred on the 28th April, 2004 in which armed robbers entered the residence of our staff. We reported it to all the authorities concerned and brought the team down to Monrovia, hoping for a speedy deployment of UNMIL troops," Cap Anamur said.
Cap Anamur admitted that leaving the town could have serious implications for the local community and patients in the Bong Mines hospital, since the local staff who had been left behind did not have sufficient expertise to deal with many of the cases handled by the German team.
UN peacekeepers have yet to station a permanent garrison in Bong Mines, but a senior UNMIL officer told IRIN privately that Bangladeshi peacekeepers have been undertaking regular weekly patrols in the area since December.
Last month UNMIL began a programme to disarm and demobilise an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 former combatants who took part in Liberia's 14-year civil war, which ended in August 2003.
Force commander Daniel Opande said at a recent disarmament ceremony that his 15,000 peacekeeping troops would be fully deployed across the whole of Liberia by the end of June.
Bong Mines is a former iron mining town. The mines were worked during the 1970s and 1980s by the German-owned Bong Mining Company. However, that folded in 1990, a few months after the start of the civil war.
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