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VOA Eyewitness Account Of Liberian Situation - 2003-08-05


There were no reports of serious fighting in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, on Tuesday, as government troops and rebel forces awaited the deployment of peacekeeping troops, who began to arrive on Monday. V-O-A correspondent Alisha Ryu in Monrovia described the situation to V-O-A's Al Pessin in London.

Pessin - Alisha, I know you just crossed over one of the bridges that separate Monrovia from the surrounding areas and you are now in a place called Bush Road Island. It was not possible to cross those bridges for many weeks until today. What was it like walking across that bridge and what did you find when you got to the other side?

Ryu - Well, Al it was a very surreal experience because up until even yesterday that bridge was the scene of very heavy fighting. There was mortar and shelling going on all through the day. So when they, meaning the government forces, allowed us to cross over and the LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) rebels on the other side welcomed us in, it was quite an amazing sensation to know that you are going into an area that was the front line less than 24 hours ago.

The bridge itself is just a scene of amazing destruction, there are literally tens of thousand of AK-47 shells littering the bridges, there are guard rails that have been broken and shot up.

There are amazing scenes of destruction on both sides of the bridge. I am standing on a road called Bush Road, this used to be the industrial park area of Monrovia and the buildings here are shot to pieces. There are literally roofs, tiles missing and big holes everywhere. Cars that are bullet-riddled. Very little has been left untouched in this war.

Pessin - When you got across the bridge a lot of shooting broke out. At first it seemed to be for celebration but then it got a bit dangerous. Tell us about that incident.

Ryu - We were looking for the commander actually and we were getting close to him and suddenly there was an amazing amount of activity. We didn't quite know what was going on. There were a few other journalists on this side as well and we were all looking to see what was going on. We saw soldiers running and that alarmed us but the commander came over to us and told us that he was trying to discipline some of the soldiers who had been caught looting.

Apparently there had been a great deal of that going on in this area so he wanted to make sure that no soldiers were going to loot. I am not quite sure exactly what they are looting because the buildings themselves look absolutely devastated. I think that he wanted to send a message out to the rest of his troops that they are not going to tolerate any kind of undisciplined behavior.

He also told us that he has agreed to a ceasefire and the ceasefire is going to take effect immediately. He was very hopeful that the ceasefire would hold until the Nigerian peacekeepers and the rest of the West African peacekeepers were in place in Monrovia and until the U-N-mandated peacekeeping force takes over.

He seemed very optimistic that this is going to be the end of thirteen years of bitter fighting and I got the same sort of impression from the government forces on the other side of the bridge. I spoke to many of the soldiers who just say they are tired of fighting, they do not want to do this any more, that they are looking for any excuse to put down their weapons and to stop the fighting.

Pessin - Alisha, what about ordinary Liberians, are they also crossing these bridges now and what are they saying about the prospects for peace?

Ryu - Ordinary Liberians at the moment are not being allowed to cross over. They are being allowed to come close to the bridge, the so-called front line, but, oh, right now I am looking at a group of what looks like Médecins Sans Frontičres people, they are aid workers taking away a body, I am not quite sure who the body is of, but they are taking him across the bridge and they are holding a Médecins Sans Frontičres flag up so that nobody will be shooting.

These are people that may have been shot or badly injured in the recent fighting and Médecins Sans Frontičres have come into this area to try to take these people out and give them some medical aid. Now they are crossing over the bridge and I am hearing gunfire on the other side. They have put down the litter and now they are approaching the bridge very cautiously, but I think this is some attempt to try to get this injured person over to the other side and try to get him some medical help.

I will attempt to follow across the bridge. There are about five or six Médecins Sans Frontičres workers. They are carrying the litter and there are two women in front carrying the Médecins Sans Frontičres flag. I am watching now from behind them. They have put down the litter and are now being questioned; a LURD soldier is asking them, I guess, where they are taking the injured person.

It is an Indian merchant who has been ill and he needs to be taken out of the rebel-controlled area immediately because he is in desperate need of medical help. So I think they have just received permission to get across. Now they have picked up the litter and they are progressing across the bridge again.

Pessin - Well it looks like there will be a happy ending to that little story at least. Alisha, before you crossed the bridge coming out of the city of Monrovia, what did you observe inside the city in terms of the civilian population? Have they been able to get out and about to look for food? Is there any food to buy? Are the living conditions improving at all yet?

Ryu - It is a scene of absolute joy today because people have not been able to go out this freely in weeks and everywhere you see there are people walking about. Of course there is no real public transport here so the only way you can do any sort of shopping is on foot and people are going out to look for food, to look for water.

Clean drinking water is very, very scarce at the moment and there is a great deal of activity, many people are smiling. However, this city has been besieged for a very long time. To expect, overnight, for things to get better is a bit unrealistic and everybody understands that. So they are happy that the peacekeepers are here.

The mere presence of the peacekeepers on the ground, let alone inside the city, has been enough to make these people believe that things will get better and they have come out and are celebrating, but there are thousands and thousands of displaced people.

I went to what is called an internal displaced camp, a refugee camp, near the U-S embassy compound in Monrovia. There are 10 thousand people there, many of them have no homes to go back to because they have been looted or burned or destroyed. Many of these people have nothing to go back to. So they understand that to get all of that back is going to take some time and it is not going to be easy for them to pick up and continue where they left off back in June. It is going to take some time, but at least there is a glimmer of hope that things might get back to normal.

Pessin - All right Alisha, thank you very much. That is V-O-A's Alisha Ryu on Bush Road Island just outside of Monrovia, Liberia. And I am Al Pessin, V-O-A News London.