Fear and Infighting in Doe’s Desolate Stronghold
MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) _ President Samuel Doe was a virtual prisoner in his oceanfront fortress Sunday, with rebels besieging the capital and his 500-member presidential guard refusing to let him flee without them, military sources said.
Other government soldiers were pushing the president to flee to avoid a bloodbath, the sources said, sparking bitter infighting inside the executive mansion.
The 500-member contingent guarding Doe is made up of soldiers from his Krahn tribe, who fear massacre at the hands of the rebels. The insurgents are mostly from the rival Gio and Mano ethnic groups.
The rebels, meanwhile, had advanced within a mile of Doe’s mansion and were locked in street combat with Doe’s regular troops, the sources said.
Doe, in a telex to the British Broadcasting Corp. on Sunday afternoon, said he would remain until ″a clear victor emerges.″
The president remained ″convinced he is invincible,″ a diplomatic source said, adding that he expected Doe to fight to the finish.
The presidential mansion, which has a commanding view of the city, was stockpiled with ammunition and explosives in preparation for a final rebel assault, said the diplomatic source.
All the sources spoke on condition of anonymity.
Heavy fighting continued close to the heart of Monrovia, as Doe’s forces fired their 40-tube, Romanian-made, multiple-rocket launcher toward the rebel- held bridge across the St. Paul’s river north of the city.
Rebel troops have overrun all of the Bushrod Island district containing the port, fuel and storage depots and repair shops. They were trying to capture the two key bridges leading directly into the city center.
Sources inside the mansion said Doe’s Krahn bodyguard had gathered Saturday with Doe and told him they would refuse to allow him to leave unless their collective safety was guaranteed.
There were also reports of deep divisions within the Krahn tribe, the sources added. The Krahns fear the rebels will kill them in revenge for the killings of many civilians who support the rebels.
Some retribution killings already have been reported by journalists with the rebels.
As the price for allowing Doe to leave, the Krahn soldiers seek safe passage to their home territory in Grand Gedeh County. Grand Gedeh is Doe’s last remaining stronghold, apart from his few remaining square miles in downtown Monrovia.
But Charles Taylor’s rebel National Patriotic Front would fiercely resist any effort by Doe to evacuate his forces to his home region. With the Gio and Mano tribes, among the country’s largest, firmly on Taylor’s side, the civil war has turned into an outright tribal conflict.
The rebels have accused Doe, who took power in a 1980 coup, of corruption, mismanagement and human rights abuses. Taylor has promised to maintain close ties with the United States if he comes to power, but he has ruled out immediate elections.
The African nation, founded by freed American slaves 150 years ago, has traditionally had close ties with Washington.
The U.S. Embassy has been trying without success to persuade Doe to flee his surrounded capital. The rebels, who began their offensive in December, already effectively control two-thirds of the country.
Washington refused to send in a peacekeeping force and on Saturday, Doe ordered the American military attache expelled, accusing him of helping the rebels. The United States denied the accusations.
Representatives of the government and the rebels have met intermittently for peace talks in neighboring Sierra Leone, but the negotiations failed to make any progress.
The Liberian government’s delegation in Freetown issued a press release Saturday calling for Doe to resign.
The statement, signed by Information Minister Emmanuel Bowier, said the delegation on Saturday ″advised President Doe, in the supreme interest of our nation and people, to make the supreme political sacrifice in order to save Liberia from further destruction of lives and properties and to ensure his personal safety.″
The statement said the peace talks had collapsed.
Doe’s eight-story mansion is like a desolate military camp, where soldiers roam in the otherwise empty hallways. The president was closeted in his fifth- floor apartment, away from outsiders.
The president was ″relying increasingly on his belief that black magic will save him,″ said a diplomatic source.
All regular government activity has ground to a halt. Many civil servants have not been paid for months and all but a handful have deserted their posts.
A tropical rainstorm Sunday, the first in more than a week, eased the water shortage somewhat for residents, who spend most of each day scavenging for food and carrying buckets of water.
One 15-year-old girl and her sister were seen across the street from the U.S. Embassy picking weeds, which they said were all they had to feed 10 people.
Some people, helped by unruly soldiers, go on regular looting expeditions after the daily 12-hour curfew begins at dusk. Shops, restaurants, offices and private homes are being systematically robbed of their contents.