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Sunday, 21 July, 2002, 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK
Rebels ousted from key Liberia town
Residents who fled begin to trickle back into Tubmanburg
Civilians have begun to trickle back into Tubmanburg

Heavily-armed Liberian troops have stepped up patrols of this provincial town - 60 kilometres (38 miles) north-west of Monrovia - after driving away rebel forces who had controlled Tubmanburg for nearly three months.

Journalists drove into the old iron ore mining town under a heavy military escort on Saturday, a day after forces of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd) were dislodged in a fierce gun battle.

The streets were littered with shells of ammunition, and government commanders said 10 bullet-riddled and mutilated bodies lying in the outskirts were those of some of the more than 100 rebels killed.

"In this operation, we don't keep POWs," said General Roland Duo, commander of the Navy Division, whose forces recaptured the town late Friday.

"The forces we fought to remove from here were prepared to stay, we had to fight them as real enemies".

Celebrations

Duo could not state the number of troops in the area "for security reasons," but put it at more than 1,000.

Jubilant government forces
Seven government soldiers were injured in the battle

Hundreds of soldiers brandishing rifles paraded through the town, jubilant, singing and chanting slogans in support of President Charles Taylor.

"Anybody who says no more Taylor, we will kill you like a dog," they chanted.

Most of them appeared younger than 14, and wore rasta hair.

Duo said surrounding towns, like Sawmill, were first attacked and retaken by government troops before advancing on to Tubmanburg.

Seven government soldiers were wounded in the fight to retake Tubmanburg, he said, and they were transferred to the capital Monrovia for treatment.


My home was looted, what you see me wearing is all that is left...every time the rebels came, we ran and they took away our things

William Johnson
Civilian

Tubmanburg hospital was badly ransacked in the attack.

Senior warfront coordinator Benjamin Yeaten said it was safe for civilians to return to Tubmanburg.

"The people that we are fighting know us and we know them," he said, "They know when we retake towns, we don't lose it to them."

Government troops were dispatched Saturday to go in search of the rebels' new hide-outs. "We are using blood trails to locate them," Yeaten said.

Blind people re-emerge

Sixty blind people went missing when the two forces clashed for control of Tubmanburg in May, and 55 of them have been located, according to military commanders in the town.

A group of blind people missing since May
Fifty-five missing blind people have now been located

Some of the blind people sat beside bundles of personal effects as troops paraded through the town to give them courage.

Samuel Karmo, 64 - the leader of the blind people - said the rest of their colleagues had been found in nearby villages.

Only 80 civilians had come to town by Saturday. With hunger etched on their faces, they queued up in the middle of town for their share of a 50-kilogramme bag of locally-ground cassava provided by military commanders to encourage them to remain in the town.

Looting

"We thank God for life," said 52-year-old Thomas Fallah, one of the civilians, who said they ate salt on Saturday for the first time since May.

William Johnson, 62, said he had not heard of his family's whereabouts since the provincial town was first attacked in May.

Gen. Benjamin Yeaten, who led the attack on Tubmanburg
The recapture of Tubmanburg was ordered earlier this month
"My home was looted, what you see me wearing is all that is left," he said, "Every time the rebels came, we ran and they took away our things."

Another resident spoke on condition of anonymity, saying government forces, too, were involved in the looting.

"If you see a soldier telling you to leave, rebels are coming, then he has spotted some valuable things in your house and he want to make away with them," he said.

A huge pile of timber which was ready for export when the town was attacked in May was set on fire allegedly by retreating rebels.

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03 Jul 02 | Africa
02 Jul 02 | Africa
07 Jun 02 | Africa
13 May 02 | Africa
07 May 02 | Africa
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