American Who Catalogued Destruction of Liberian Rain Forest Escapes
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ American Andrew Voros walked out of a jail in war-ravaged Liberia with only a pair of jeans - and many horror stories.
Voros, who spent the last four years documenting the destruction of the last virgin rain forest in West Africa, had his work looted. He also saw a friend tortured by soldiers who later told him his friend had been killed. And he has memories of bodies littering streets in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.
The 33-year-old New Jersey man was jailed for eight days in Monrovia by soldiers loyal to President Samuel Doe. The U.S. Embassy engineered Voros’ release, U.S. Marines got him out of the country Saturday and he returned Tuesday to his home in Rahway, 10 miles southwest of Newark.
″Since I was released, I’ve kept the loss of my friends and work out of my mind,″ he said Thursday by telephone from his home.″I’m so happy to be alive.″
The eight-month-old rebellion to oust Doe reached Monrovia in June. Since then, the city has been battered by rockets and mortars, bodies litter the streets, and beleaguered residents have gone without fresh food supplies, water and electricity.
At least 5,000 people have been killed, most of them civilians.
Front-end loaders regularly drove through town with their buckets loaded with corpses, Voros recalled.
″There were people eating dogs and dogs eating people in the street,″ he said.
A month ago, he helped care for survivors of an army massacre of hundreds of refugees in a Lutheran church. ″It was horrifying - there were children with feet and hands blown off, women with legs ripped open and breasts blown off,″ he said.
Voros said he survived prison because of the deference Africans show to white Americans. ″I got to wear my jeans during the day. Everyone else was stripped,″ he said.
Soldiers would accuse him of being a CIA agent at one point and then ask for his help in getting a visa to the United States. ″You don’t know how many soldiers took my U.S. address down,″ he said.
Voros and his close friend, Col. Christopher Doe, a former finance director for the army who is not related to the president, were arrested at Voros’ house by soldiers who accused them of supporting the rebels.
On the fourth day of their imprisonment, ″Christie was brought in, stripped and beaten with a cartridge belt in front of me,″ Voros said. The next day a soldier told Voros his friend had been killed.
The house was looted of all valuables, he said. ″Everything I worked for four years was in my house,″ he said.
A biology graduate, Voros worked in Yosemite National Park and spent two years in Liberia with the Peace Corps until 1984. He returned 1 years later primarily to document the destruction of the country’s virgin rain forest, which he said is the last one remaining in West Africa.
Voros also videotaped secret tribal societies and scenes of urban life in Monrovia, took shots of elephants and monkeys and interviewed elderly Liberians about their homeland. Freed American slaves founded Liberia in 1822.
He had accumulated $50,000 in grants from U.S. government agencies for his rain forest project, and worries he’ll have to pay it back because he has nothing to show for it.
Over half of the rain forest has been destroyed by logging companies that bribe government officials to get into the forest’s towering hardwoods, Voros said. Peasants then move into the area and create farmland by slashing and burning the remaining forests.
″In 25 to 30 years, the rest of the forest will be destroyed,″ he said.
If some semblance of peace returns, Voros said he’d like to return.
″If the city is not destroyed completely, I’d like to go back and post rewards for the return of my videos,″ he said.