Bloodshed goes on for Liberians




Mark Huband in Abidjan

The Guardian, 7 June 1991

THOUSANDS of Liberians from the dead president Samuel Doe’s tribe – the Krahn – are effectively trapped by rebel forces, who are threatening to wipe out rival tribes in the east of the country. The rebel fighters are said to be accompanied by Libyan advisers.

Despite a ceasefire agreed by Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) last October with the warring factions and the West African peace-keeping force sent to Monrovia, Krahn civilians and members of related tribes say that NPFL rebels have burned villages and killed civilians in an attempt to take control of the Krahn homeland of Grand Gedeh county.

Doe’s home town of Tuzohn fell to the NPFL last year, but the county capital, Zwedru, is still the scene of fighting, Betty Kanah, a woman who escaped from the area, said yesterday. She said that the worst fighting was around the town of Putu, where several hundred members of the Krahn and Sappho tribes have been defending themselves against NPFL attacks for the past three weeks.

Civilians in Putu, who have used weapons captured from NPFL rebels to defend themselves, claim that two weeks ago, they captured four NPFL advisers who admitted to being Libyan. One said he had been trained at the Libyan military base of Mataba. The NPFL was trained at the same base.

The captured men spoke only Arabic and French, said Mrs Kanah, who saw them being interrogated before she escaped to neighbouring Ivory Coast last week. She said they admitted that they had been with the rebel forces in Liberia since the beginning of the l8-month civil war. The Libyans, she said, had been told that Israelis who had been living in Grand Gedeh – where they ran logging companies – were used to protect Samuel Doe.

Doe’s special anti-terrorist unit (Satu) was trained by Israel and is credited with having exposed the numerous coup plots Doe put down during his 10 violent years in power.

Charles Taylor has always denied that he has Libyan backing. The Libyan delegation at this week’s annual summit of the Organisation of African Unity in Nigeria, staged a walk-out partly in protest at Nigerian involvement in Liberia, where Nigerian troops make up most of the peace-keeping force.

Mrs Kanah said that all civilians caught by the NPFL in the area were assumed to be Krahn and were killed.

“The Sapphos are also victims because they are assumed to be Krahn. So the Sappho fled from their homeland in Sino county and have joined with the Krahn in one battalion based in Putu. They are depending on weapons they have captured from the rebels.

“The majority of towns have been burned, even when the people are still inside their houses. Over 100 villages have been burned,” she said.

The people fighting the NPFL are not former members of Doe’s Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), but civilians who had no option but to fight, she maintained. The AFL, its senior ranks dominated by the Krahn, was guilty of appalling atrocities against civilians. It carried out massacres last year at which Doe himself is believed to have been present.

The civilians are suffering a food shortage due to the rebel siege, Mrs Kahan said, in an area where the war had already disrupted crop planting.

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