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American Nuns Caught In Siege, Believed Abducted By Rebels

October 30, 1992

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) _ They’ve had guns held to their heads by rebels, lost cars in ambushes, and walked 40 miles through the bush in Liberia’s brutal civil war.

They are American nuns in their 50s and 60s, and five of them were reported missing earlier this week. Their mother superior in Ruma, Ill., Sister Mildred Gross, said Thursday that they were being held hostage by rebels loyal to guerrilla leader Charles Taylor.

Sister Gross identified the women as sisters Kathleen McGuire of Ridgway, Ill.; Shirley Kolmer and her cousin, Joelle Kolmer, both of Waterloo, Ill.; Barbara Ann Muttra of Springfield, Ill. and Agnes Mueller of Bartelso, Ill.

All were experienced missionaries in Liberia. Kolmer and Muttra were the veterans of the group, each having spent 10 years in the country, said Sister Gross, head of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ convent, a Rome-based order commonly known as the sisters of the Precious Blood.

The perils of combat in Liberia were not new to the nuns, according to Sister Barbara Brillant, a missionary in Liberia with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, a Rome-based order.

In 1990, when Taylor’s forces first besieged the Liberian capital of Monrovia, the Kolmer cousins got caught behind rebel lines and were forced to walk 40 miles through the bush to the town of Kakata, north of Monrovia, Brillant said.

Muttra, a nurse, had regularly crossed the front lines to run a clinic at Kle, 30 miles north of Monrovia, according to Brillant.

When this reporter met Muttra last month, she was indignantly arguing with relief workers to let her cross the front lines to retrieve her landcruiser, which had been seized at gunpoint by Taylor’s fighters.

″She’s feisty, Barbara-Ann. They’re remarkable women .... Given a chance they will absolutely make it because they also are fighters, as missionaries their faith has to be strong that something good will happen in the end,″ Brillant said.

Liberia’s civil war began when Taylor, a Liberian who had assembled rebel forces in Ivory Coast, invaded in December 1989. President Samuel Doe was killed, and the West African nations dispatched peacekeepers.

About 60,000 people have died in what grew into a tribal war, 40,000 of them of starvation during the siege of Monrovia in 1990.

Brillant recalled how she herself ″had a gun put to my head in 1990, because I was American,″ and the rebels blamed the Americans for the planes sent by a West African intervention force that bombed Taylor’s fighters out of Monrovia.

She talked her way out of it, Brillant said, by imitating a Liberian-style drawl. ″I say my man, you want to shoot me, you shoot me, but I not flying the plane-oh. You see my face in the plane?″

But it was different then, Brillant said. ″They were young fighters, new inexperienced fighters. Inside, Liberians are really gracious and kind. This is the real evil coming out.″

″Missionaries have always, always been respected in Liberia. Elderly people have always been respected. This is the first time there has been that loss of values,″ said Brillant, who has been in Liberia 15 years.

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