Desperate for a U.S. invasion

Hidden in a candlelit basement in Monrovia, a Liberian aid worker waits for President Bush to stop the chaos and death overtaking his country.

Published July 23, 2003 10:02PM (EDT)

After a rocket hit a residential complex in the capital of Liberia Monday, mourners brought the mutilated bodies of their dead to the U.S. Embassy and laid them outside the locked gates. It was an act of desperation, a grim cry for help on the part of a people plagued by 13 years of civil war -- a war that appears unlikely to end without international assistance. Although President Charles Taylor promised to step down in a recent peace deal brokered by other countries in the region, he has refused to leave until peacemakers arrive to control the rebel fighting.

Liberia was founded by former United States slaves, and 150 years later, the U.S. is the obvious choice for peacemaker. But while several thousand U.S. troops are moving into position for that role, President George W. Bush has yet to decide if they will be sent in. In the meantime, Liberians continue to die and world pressure builds on Bush to intervene.

On Tuesday night, Salon spoke to Samuel Boniface Nah, a Liberian stationed in Monrovia with the humanitarian aid agency Mercy Corps. He had taken refuge in a house near the agency's offices; hidden in a basement where candles provided the only light, Nah spoke to Salon by cellphone. Here is his description of the past few days:

"The rockets they echo through the night, every night. People are dying. It's been a very terrible thing to see. I don't really know how to describe this beyond there's something that's gone horribly wrong.

"The government and the rebels are within combat range, but the rockets overshoot combat range and fall where the people are. The wounded are mostly women and children. There were a lot of wounded taken to the hospital, the only hospital, JFK, [John F. Kennedy Medical Center], but yesterday a rocket shell fell on the beach near JFK and it scared off some of the nurses and doctors.

"So some of the corpses just lay there [at the hospital], and there are people there just dying because there is no one to take care of them. And some of the soldiers have made a habit of entering the hospital compound with arms, carrying their wounded colleagues, demanding the doctors pay attention to them first, instead of treating the other wounded. So most of the people dying are women and children.

"For now it's complete anarchy. Where we are, we stay away from the streets on the floor, to avoid the rockets. It's terrible -- they're all over the place. One of the rockets dropped near where I was Monday, as the NGOs are near the U.S. Embassy. We had to flee our offices.

"So far, our office people are crowded in the basement. There's no electricity. During the day we charge a car battery so at night we can see CNN, BBC. We can't really get a good idea from the radio what's going on.

"Basically we're just trying to run away from danger.

"Monrovia as a whole is displaced, including myself. I had to leave my house because of the shelling. My niece was hit by shrapnel. It cut her stomach, but not too severely. Even areas where the fighting is less, there are still militias that will go into the houses and wake people up and loot them at gunpoint, extorting everything.

"By 8 p.m. the streets are empty, and it's quiet except for the gunfire. By 8 everyone goes in, because if you are caught in the street, you can be killed, or if you're lucky, whatever you have, you'll be stripped of it. So everybody avoids the streets after 8, and moves around on the roofs to search for food. There are areas where there isn't any water, but where I am there are wells around.

"It's serious. It's really serious. We are really desperate.

"Just before this round of fighting started, over 100,000 people started to march to the front line to ask LURD [Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, the main rebel group] to shoot them and kill them if they didn't want to listen to their own leader, to give the peace offers a chance.

"If the U.S. forces come, I can assure you that would automatically change the picture because nobody, not even the rebels, wants to get in trouble with the U.S. Everybody considers the U.S. to be their own father. The sentiment among ordinary people is so high, especially on the government side. But the longer they delay, the more people die, and the longer the fight continues that sentiment will die down.

"People are already becoming anti-U.S."

By Laura McClure

Laura McClure is assistant news editor at Salon.

MORE FROM Laura McClure

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Africa George W. Bush