[rizzn’s note: further unreported news from the Liberia front. my earlier comments on Liberia still apply. I am still wondering why it’s getting no major media play.]

LIBERIA: Sporadic night gunfire and looting in Monrovia

MONROVIA, 2 October (IRIN) – Sporadic gunfire could be heard throughout Wednesday night in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, as rebels and government fighters who earlier engaged in a shootout in the eastern suburbs of the city, went on a looting spree.

The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), in its second day of operation, stepped up troop presence around Monrovia, deploying more men and armoured cars on the city’s outskirts. They set up checkpoints where vehicles were thoroughly checked.

The Special Representative of the UN Secretary General to Liberia, Jacques Paul Klein, told reporters that he was troubled by the incident. He warned Liberian fighters to stop terrorizing civilians.

“What happened troubled me greatly. I am not happy with these people. They embarrassed themselves and violated the Accra peace agreement. Ultimately they will be brought to justice,” Klein said.

Eyewitnesses told IRIN on Thursday that fighters of the main rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and government troops, looted vehicles and homes in Monrovia’s eastern commercial districts of Gardnersville and Paynesville.

Shooting by government troops around Congo Town in eastern Monrovia, where most government officials stay, could still be heard early on Thursday morning.

Ma Fanta Sanor, a resident told IRIN: “Government fighters burst into my warehouse at Paynesville Red Light and looted all the groundnut bags. They said the store is owned by a LURD supporter.” There were some reports of rape by the fighters.

Most stores in Paynesville remained closed on Thursday. A Lebanese shop owner, one Ghassam, told IRIN: “How will we open our stores when the fighters want to loot it?”.

LURD fighters hijacked several vehicles and commandeered them to their main base in the western Liberian town of Tubmanburg, 60 km from Monrovia.

A bus used to ferry staff of Monrovia’s main referral hospital, John F. Kennedy, was taken, Jordi Raichi, an official of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told IRIN. “We cannot say who looted it, but the bus is very useful to the hospital because it was used to transport all the hospital’s workers,” he said.

IRIN found civilians crowded at the LURD coordinating office in the western Monrovia suburbs complaining that the rebels had looted their property and vehicles.

“I was going to Bushrod Island and some of the LURD rebels in a red pick up jumped out with bayonets and demanded that I get out of my car. They drove towards Bomi,” Ernest Sumo said.

On Wednesday, Omar Khatib, WHO representative in Liberia told IRIN on Wednesday that a 4-wheel Toyota Land Cruiser vehicle returning staff from Gbarpolu, was taken by LURD fighters around the Po River, 17 km west of Monrovia. The WHO staff, who had been visiting a clinic, were ordered to walk to Monrovia.

A large number of LURD rebels wearing rag-tag uniforms patrolled Bushrod island throughout Thursday morning. Civilians kept off the streets and shop keepers closed down their businesses.

The two groups first shot at each other on Wednesday, after a convoy carrying LURD Chairman Sekou Damate Conneh to meet Interim President Moses Blah, was blocked by an angry crowd. A scuffle ensued as LURD fighters attempted to clear the road. Government troops arrived at the scene and the fight started.

By the time West African peacekeepers calmed down the situation, at least nine people had been killed – six in a grenade explosion reportedly planted by LURD.

The meeting between Conneh and Blah flopped as the top rebel leader, who only returned from exile in Guinea last week, rushed back to Tubmanburg. Later the LURD issued a statement claiming they would need to review the situation before meeting any government officials.

Wednesday’s incident happened hours before West African peacekeepers, called the ECOMIL force, handed over to the UNMIL. The 3,500 West African peacekeepers were handed over to form UNMIL’s vanguard force.

More troops are expected in Liberia to raise UNMIL’s strength to 15,000 in three months. The UN force is expected to support the new transitional government that takes office on 14 October in stabilising the war-ravaged country. The transitional government was set up in accordance with a Peace Agreement signed in Accra, Ghana on 18 August after former president Charles Taylor left Liberia for exile in Nigeria.

[ENDS]

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