Cease-Fire After New Fighting; Cholera Seeps into Monrovia
Apr. 19, 1996
MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) _ A rebel faction whose showdown with a rival plunged the capital into chaos agreed to a cease-fire Friday and freed 78 foreigners trapped by the fighting.
The foreigners' release was the strongest sign yet that the new truce might finally halt two weeks of fighting that prompted a U.S. military evacuation of more than 2,000 foreigners.
U.S. Ambassador William Milan said a delegation from Roosevelt Johnson's Ulimo faction accepted the peace plan during talks at the U.S. Embassy with representatives of the United Nations, the West African peacekeeping force, and foreign diplomats.
The freed foreigners, civilians mainly from Lebanon, were taken to the peacekeepers' headquarters, Milan said. The peacekeepers' spokesman Frank Akinola, confirmed the release.
Under the cease-fire plan, peacekeepers will set up a buffer zone around the besieged Barclay Training Center, an army compound where Johnson and his fighters have been holed up for nearly two weeks trying to fight off government troops.
Foreigners remaining inside the disease-plagued compound _ including 37 peacekeepers held hostage _ were to be freed Saturday, and humanitarian assistance allowed to resume across the city, Milan said. He said the cease-fire was to take effect immediately.
It was still unclear whether the 78 foreign civilians released Friday night had been hostages or simply trapped inside the barracks by the fighting in the streets. No details on their condition or identities were immediately released.
It was the third truce plan announced since fighting engulfed the capital April 6.
Leaders of the two main factions _ Johnson and rival warlord Charles Taylor _ did not attend the talks. However, Taylor, who has taken to calling himself Liberia's president and has led the assault on Johnson, said last week that he would agree to a truce if the West African peacekeeping troops were deployed around the Barclay barracks.
There was no immediate comment from Taylor, a member of Liberia's six-man interim government whose National Patriotic Front fighters dominate the national army.
Diplomats are eager to end the crisis, which has raised fears of epidemics.
Containing cholera and malaria outbreaks in the crippled city, where thugs and rival rebels still rule the streets, has been left up to local health volunteers. The last foreign aid workers left the West African country earlier this week.
Earlier Friday, Dr. Eric Nogi, chief of international emergency and refugee health for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, visited the sprawling U.S.-owned Greystone compound, once the residential section for embassy workers and now home to about 20,000 Liberian refugees.
Nogi surveyed the only water well there, and shook his head at the smell of human waste and the stream of fluids that trickled into the well.
The water is believed to be the source of severe diarrhea that has killed seven people at Greystone, two of whom died overnight Thursday.
Health officials believe the diarrhea is caused by cholera, but they have no way to test for the disease, which is easily treated with antibiotics and rehydration fluids or salts.
``The control of cholera is well-established and incredibly effective,'' Nogi said. ``But if you have no one to implement those steps, cholera can be a disaster.''
He emphasized there were no serious epidemics yet, largely because Liberians were in relatively good health when the fighting began.
At the Red Cross tents at Greystone, only a few boxes of medical supplies were left by Friday morning. Three people have died of gunshot wounds and 32 babies have been born at the compound in the last 10 days.
At a nearby clinic set up in the looted homes of evacuated workers for the French aid agency Doctors Without Borders, at least four people have died of what is believed to be cholera.
Theo Barlay, the Liberian administrator for Doctors Without Borders, said rebels stormed the homes and looted all the vehicles and communications equipment as soon as the French workers fled.
In one room, a wide-eyed 17-year-old soldier from Taylor's National Patriotic Front was having the left side of his head sewn closed by a nurse after he fell off the back of a truck during a firefight.
Outside, gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades could be heard, and in the afternoon _ before the cease-fire announcement _ fighting broke out again at the Barclay complex.
The young fighters who didn't have guns were using everything from hockey sticks to punchbowl ladles and meat cleavers as weapons. One young fighter wore only bikini underwear, combat boots and a bandolier of bullets.