Taylor vows to live or die with troops

MONROVIA (Liberia) JUNE 26. Shells and rockets pounded refugee-crowded neighbourhoods of Liberia's capital as rebels pressed home their three-year war to oust the President, Charles Taylor, wounding hundreds and leaving thousands of others cowering in the coastal city without escape.

The fighting on Wednesday shattered a week-old truce and raised the possibility of a deadly endgame for Liberia's civil war: an all-out battle among undisciplined armies for the city of 1 million residents, now also packed with hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Mr. Taylor pledged to live or die with his troops, with rebels on three sides of the city and the Atlantic Ocean on the fourth.

The U.S. embassy opened the gates of its residential compound to Liberians seeking shelter, and thousands of them crowded in on Wednesday — hoping proximity to the Americans would mean safety.

Hours later, three pieces of ordnance — believed either mortars or rockets — landed within the high-walled compound and exploded, sending those taking refuge there running. Survivors rushed out bleeding victims, some missing limbs — using a wheelbarrow and bloodstained shirts as stretchers.

In Washington, the State Department press officer, Brooke Summers, said a guard and a gardener employed by the U.S. embassy were killed. The last Americans had recently been moved out of the residential complex to the heavily-guarded U.S. embassy across the street.

``Everybody in the world is sitting to watch us die,'' a refugee, Suah Kolli, cried at Monrovia's John F. Kennedy hospital, where hundreds overflowed the hospital's wards and sprawled, moaning and bleeding, in slippery hallways. The French humanitarian group, Medecins Sans Frontiers, evacuated another hospital overrun by fighting, and by midday was treating scores of wounded in its own compound.

Refugees packed schoolyards, shell-gutted houses and the country's main soccer stadium, while many of Monrovia's people simply cowered in their homes. Aid workers described a humanitarian nightmare even before fighting broke out on Tuesday, with cholera and starvation rampant among the crowded refugees.

Mr. Taylor's forces have lost at least 60 per cent of the country to two rebel groups determined to drive out Mr. Taylor, who has been indicted by a U.N. war crimes tribunal that has accused him of fuelling West Africa's conflicts for 14 years.

At midday, Mr. Taylor took to the airwaves of his private radio station to dispel a rumour he had fled. ``This blatant act of terror will be fought all the way,'' Mr. Taylor declared, as artillery boomed. ``My life is no more important than yours,'' he said. ``I am here with the men and women in arms, encouraging them to fight on. Because my survival is their survival, and their survival is mine.'' — AP

Recommended for you