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Soldiers Leaving Few Wounded, Many Dead, Refugees Say

January 25, 1990

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) _ Liberian soldiers accused of killing hundreds of unarmed civilians are leaving few survivors in their wake as they scour the countryside looking for rebels, medical workers and diplomats said today.

The reports, based on harrowing accounts by refugees, indicate that the mass killings are so thorough and indiscriminate that very few wounded are left behind.

″They tell really horrendous stories of soldiers spraying entire villages with .50-caliber machine guns,″ said a Western diplomat who requested anonymity. Bullets from such heavy weapons tear huge holes into bodies.

The diplomat and Ivorian sources estimate at least 500 civilians have been killed in Liberia’s eastern Nimba county since soldiers were deployed to halt a Dec. 24 rebel incursion.

″The refugees say there are not many wounded people because the soldiers slaughtered so many,″ said the diplomat.

He visited refugees Tuesday with Ivorian government officials, aid workers and other diplomats from nations giving food, medicine and money to alleviate a food shortage.

An ongoing stream of refugees was estimated today to number more than 60,000. Between 12,000 and 15,000 other Liberians have sought refuge in Guinea, the diplomat said.

At the Ivorian border village of Danane, refugees dash desperately to hide in forests when they hear the staccato of machine gunfire that sounds daily from across the frontier in Liberia.

″They are traumatized by the combat and watching some of their relatives being killed,″ said Claude Regnier, a French adviser to the Ivorian government who heads a committee coordinating refugee aid.

″They are still in shock. When the gunfire starts, they rush to the forest and come out of the bush only when it stops,″ he said in an interview.

A Western diplomat said the killings began after rebels from the Gio tribe stepped up attacks in an attempt to oust Liberian President Samuel Doe, who seized power in a bloody 1980 coup that ousted the descendants of freed American slaves who founded the West African nation in 1847. The Gio long have felt oppressed by Doe’s Krahn people.

″It started with Gio rebels attacking military outposts in their own ethnic heartland in Nimba county,″ the diplomat said on condition of anonymity. ″The army came in and just went nuts because everyone looks like a rebel to them. There has been some very heavy-handed slaughter.″

The rebels retaliated about 10 days ago by moving south into traditional Krahn territory and began slaughtering civilians there, according to the diplomat. That has caused a second wave of victims to flee east into Ivory Coast and north into Guinea, he said.

The killing continues, the diplomat said, despite a warning from Doe on Monday that soldiers who harm civilians will face firing squads.

Liberian officials say Doe’s execution threat is helping to bring the situation under control.

Initially, Justice Minister Jenkins Scott said troops killed only armed civilians who attacked them.

One Western diplomat conceded it might be difficult for troops to identify rebels, who do not wear military uniforms.

Regnier said 40 percent of refugees are women and children, 30 percent boys and youths and the remainder men.

Doctors said refugees hospitalized in Ivory Coast include a 5-year-old girl shot in the leg.

At Man hospital, a regional health center 75 miles from Danane, director Dr. Maurice Kouame said his staff is treating only eight seriously wounded Liberians.