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Disabled Man Dies in Liberia After Sharing Plight

More and more disabled people in the war-scarred Liberian capital Monrovia are gathering in downtown areas begging for money, saying they are struggling to survive. The country's health minister says many prefer to beg rather than to look for jobs. VOA's Nico Colombant met one disabled man, who had recently lost his job, and was trying hard to lead a productive life. One day later, he was dead.

Se Tua rolled up in a battered wheelchair last Friday on Ashmun Street in central Monrovia, his eyes yellow, wanting to talk about the plight of disabled people in Africa.

"When you are living here, [there is] nobody to take care of you, besides going around, to beg for money," he said. "When it comes to disgruntled people on the streets, at times, they attack you. When you get small money, they want to fight you and take it."

He wore dirty clothes, and said he was finding life hard since losing a good job for a security service. He gave an appointment to talk some more this week.

A neighbor shows his now empty sleeping place in the back of a hallway.

"He said he fought his friend, a crippled man, and the man knocked him on his back, so he dropped down," he recalled. "So we picked him up, and brought him, and carried him to the police station. The police post said the place we took him from, we should carry him there. So we carried him there, but he was already dead, when we carried him. So, the UNMIL police came, they carried him to go bury him."

Officials at the United Nations peacekeeping mission (UNMIL) confirmed the body had been picked up, but say it appears Tua died of natural causes.

But another handicapped man, a polio-stricken, wheelchair bound office clerk who knew Tua well says he also heard it was a crime.

"The person that did it, he is a handicapped too, but he is a former fighter," he explained. "He is a Liberian man. I went there yesterday, but he is not there. If I see him, he cannot go to the law. I will deal with him the same way. That is all I have to say. Se is my little brother. I am going to deal with him. I am appealing to the government to do an arrest, but it is not so."

This handicapped man says the government does not protect the disabled, and sometimes arrests them for no reason.

The government's health minister, Walter Gwenigale, says many disabled are war casualties who never went to school because they became child soldiers. He says some are too embarrassed to get vocational training, because they have never been educated.

He says there used to be a lottery to help them, and that now, many get help from international aid groups.

"Some of the people that are in front of stores, begging, actually have been assisted by Handicap International," he noted. "They have been assisted by the Red Cross. They have been given limbs. I have spoken to some of them personally. I have asked them what has happened to their leg that they were given. Some have said 'oh, the leg does not fit properly. It hurts when I put it on.' Or, some will say, 'Well I do not have any work to do, so it is easier to come and beg, rather than to go and try to find something to do'."

But one man in central Monrovia remembers Tua fondly and says, he could read and write and that when he was not begging, he used to help people going to school.

"He communicated with people well," he recalled. "He talked with people well. He learned reading and writing. So sometimes he came around and you got a lesson [from him], he wanted to help you. [He was] a very clever man."

Not far from where Tua was found, a street cart blares out a sermon.