Liberian rebels fight peace force


Mark Huband in Monrovia

The Guardian, 2 November 1992


REBEL forces besieging the Liberian capital Monrovia fired rockets yesterday at a Nigerian plane carrying reinforcements for the multinational West African peacekeeping force under attack at strategic points around the city.

Members of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) fired at the Nigerian Okada Air plane as it landed at Spriggs Payne airfield, witnesses said. The rockets failed to hit their target. The NPFL leader, Charles Taylor, has said he will continue firing at peacekeeping force aircraft with the aim of bringing them down.

The United States yesterday condemned the slaughter of five American nuns who were shot last week in NPFL territory, three outside their convent in the Monrovia suburb of Gardnersville and two further inside NPFL territory.

The embassy stopped short of specifically blaming the NPFL, and Mr Taylor’s radio station claimed on Saturday that the murders were carried out by a retreating member of the peacekeeping force.

The Roman Catholic archbishop of Monrovia, Michael Francis, one of the few outspoken critics of atrocities throughout the war, said of the nuns’ killers: “They are destroyers, not builders. They have done nothing for their country. We prayed for these wicked people, liars, who kills us and murdered the sisters.”

The NPFL, which invaded Liberia in December 1989 and has been attempting to seize Monrovia since June 1990, launched its current offensive on October 15. Mr Taylor, who has become increasingly belligerent, appears to have dropped all intentions of abiding by peace agreements he signed last year in the Ivory Coast.

According to one of his closest advisers he is determined to use all his military force in the attack on Monrovia, where rival military factions which have been bombarding him constantly are concentrated.

The combined strength of the 9,000-strong peacekeeping force, the remnants of the former national army, militias loyal to the interim president, Amos Sawyer, and tribal supporters of the murdered former president Samuel Doe, have failed to halt the NPFL advance.

Last night the NPFL forces were fighting the peacekeepers in the suburbs of Paynesville to the south and Gardnersville to the north. According to sources recently in Mr Taylor’s territory, the 10,000-strong NPFL guerrilla army has acquired armoured personnel carriers.

Nigeria, which dominates the peacekeeping force with its contingent of around 6,000, has bombed NPFL targets with Alphajet fighter aircraft.

More than 100,000 refugees have fled in the past two weeks to Monrovia, which is facing an increasingly serious water shortage.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited