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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 October 2003, 13:27 GMT
Liberia's rural reign of terror
Boy in Totota
Civilians with food are targeted by gunmen
Many Liberian families are living in appalling conditions at the mercy of rebels and fighters who backed former President Charles Taylor.

In the capital, the deployment of peacekeepers and the installation of an interim government has brought calm.

But outside Monrovia, armed gangs are terrorising civilians reports the BBC's Jonathan Paye Layleh.

In central Liberia he heard from families of how food was looted, villages were burnt and girls raped.

Some 100,000 people are camped in the small towns strung out along Liberia's main road into the interior, seeking protection from UN patrols which have begun deploying outside the capital.


Their homes lie in villages beyond the buffer zone, and when the armed militias had to withdraw from UN-controlled areas, that is where the fighters went.

The families clustered along the road to Gbanga near Totota describe a reign of terror.

Peacekeepers have begun deploying outside Monrovia
They told him that as well as the violence, armed gangs were also stealing tin roofs from houses and forcing villagers to act as porters or do other kinds of forced labour.

"So-called Lurd rebels are just going around randomly beating people in the bush and taking people hostage," one civilian told him.

Another told him of how a fighter in a rebel-controlled area had shot a girl in his village in the back.

The problem is that although some of the African peacekeeping contingents have started to deploy, the forces from further afield are not expected until at least December, and the UN just doesn't have enough men to start patrolling the countryside.

Although the main road is safe for trucks to bring food, previous experience in Liberia has shown that any village which gets a food distribution becomes an immediate target for the armed gangs.

In the past some agencies have had to resort to running meal centres where the most needy could come and eat.

The displaced people were unanimous that, even if they were hungry, food was not what they were asking for; what they wanted was to be able to feel safe in their own homes.

Lt General Opande, UN Commander on Focus on Africa
"We are stretched to the limits"


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