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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 June, 2003, 22:38 GMT 23:38 UK
City of the desperate and frightened
By Paul Welsh
BBC West Africa Correspondent, Monrovia

Two little boys sit huddled together under an empty sack. A family of six are living in the shade of an old umbrella.

The heat is stifling, shade is limited and water is scarce.

The Liberian capital, Monrovia, is becoming a city of the desperate and the frightened.

The families trying to find shelter from the sun are among 15,000 people living rough in the grounds of the national stadium.
An old woman is carried in a wheelbarrow as fighting intensifies
Liberia's latest conflict has been going on for three years

Altogether, up to 100,000 people have fled their homes as rebels have advanced into Liberia's capital city.

From the crowd, a voice attracts my attention.

"We want the UN to take action immediately."

More and more ordinary people in Monrovia are asking when someone is going to do something to help.

Swelling numbers

The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, says he is alarmed by the suffering of the people in Monrovia.

An emergency meeting of the Security Council said it is increasingly alarmed.

The man in the crowd says he does not need words of sympathy.

Liberia through the years has been the victim of ad hoc, quick-fix peace arrangements which don't work
Daniel Chea, Liberian Defence Minister
"Beside words, we need action. We want to see an intervention force on this ground so there can be a ceasefire. We are afraid as ordinary civilians."

The streets of the government-held part of Monrovia are packed with people; the population has been swelled by those who have moved away from the fighting.

At first glance, it seems nothing is amiss. But the shops are all closed and the soldiers on roadblocks are nervous.

Away from his colleagues, a rusting Kalashnikov rifle in his hands, a soldier told me: "We just want peace, we're fed up of war. It's lasted 14 years now."

There is an appetite for peace, but it looks as unlikely to be satisfied quickly, as the hunger for food.

The Defence Minister, Daniel Chea, believes so too.

"Liberia through the years has been the victim of ad hoc, quick-fix peace arrangements which don't work, " he told me.

"As you can see from the faces of our people, they have had enough of the suffering, enough of killing, enough of guns."

Human cost

In the city centre we occasionally hear the sound of gunfire, or of explosions drifting over from the fighting on the other side of the St Paul's river.

Looking over the water, it is possible to see smoke rising in the distance.

It is all taking its toll. A father sitting with the limp body of his son lying in his arms had clearly had more than he can take.

He is with a volunteer doctor in a makeshift clinic that has been set up in the sports stadium's changing rooms.

If peace isn't found soon, life here is going to get very bad, very quickly
The father's face shows the suffering of a decade and a half of war, his son's shows the effects of the latest battle for Monrovia.

Boakai Jomah, with the medical charity Merlin, says conditions are worsening by the day.

"We actually expect an outbreak of cholera, and maybe measles. There is no safe drinking water, and a lot of them have not been immunised; so we expect an outbreak any moment now."

A small, weak child lies nearby. He coughs and cries at the same time, pitifully. He is a year or so old. He has a lung infection and malaria, too.

Here, the prospects are not good.

Liberia is no stranger to human suffering caused by war.

Even by Liberian standards, this is unusual and unbearable.

If peace is not found soon, life here is going to get very bad, very quickly.




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