Monday, June 23, 2003

War is war, no matter where you find it:

It was time for a break at Clay Junction, Liberia's front line 30 miles north of the capital, Monrovia, and the kids wanted something to smoke. Boy soldiers in women's wigs and girl soldiers in shower caps loitered by the road or practised penalties with spent sub-machine-gun cartridges. One fighter found a more amusing toy. He twisted the thigh bones from a putrefying corpse and thwacked them together. The kids loved it. Leaping and shrieking, they forgot their urge for dope and danced to his grizzly percussion.


The road from Clay Junction to Monrovia provided snapshots of Mr Taylor's Liberia. The bodies of young men and boys lay spread-eagled on the asphalt, face-down, face-up, their eyes pecked out by birds. Casually, a soldier sprayed a stinking corpse with bullets. But he ignored the next one, perhaps because it was wearing a wig.


After 14 years of on-off war in Liberia with a pause following Mr Taylor's election in 1997, the country is in humanitarian meltdown. The EU says more than a third of its three million people are displaced, mostly living in camps with no power, no clean water and almost no western food aid. More than 10,000 child soldiers were never demobilised after the first stage of the war, and thousands have been recruited since. The UN's statistics suggest Liberia has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the world.

On the edge of Monrovia, Anthony Washington, 30, turned off the road into a displacement camp, carrying a bundle of palm sap and cassava roots, scavenged from the bush. "You gotta advocate for us, man, cause we're dying here, people dying here every day,"he said. "We got no food, no medication, we got no food, man."

The rebels launched their attack at the camp, looting its market, then fighting a gun battle with the army over the prostrate bodies of thousands of terrified refugees.

"Bullets hitting arms, bullets hitting legs, we were crawling around screaming," said Vanday Ibrahima, 37, who was there at the time. "God help us, we need some peace."

Thanks to Democratic Veteran for the reminder.....