Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Decade Ago

Ten years ago this week was, by recorded accounts, a hellish week in Monrovia. The city was under attack from the outside, by rebel forces shelling the city, and from within, by looters and marauding bands of government forces and other gangs across the city center, Sinkor, and Paynesville, both during the day and at night, looting, pillaging, raping and killing. 

From a World Health Organization assessment report:

Wednesday, June 25 2003 
Fighting was intensified in the center of the city, and the exchange of mortar was more frequent and deadly. Hundreds of people, especially the IDPs, were caught in the cross-fire and consequently died. 

Two rockets landed in the compound of the American Embassy (Grey Stone) where about 30,000 internally displaced people were seeking refuge. About 20 persons were killed when the rockets landed. 
The second note is one of the most high-profile and horrible of the entire battle of Monrovia. Rebel forces, most of them LURD, had been launching rockets toward central Monrovia from their positions in Virginia and elsewhere north of the city as they advanced on the capital. During this week, they made their way into Bushrod Island, taking the Club Beer Factory and other important commercial warehouses, before finally controlling the Freeport of Monrovia itself, before retreating under a ceasefire. 
  • The forces, many of them underage and inexperienced, and often intoxicated, shelled the capital's central areas without much tactical precision, just as these areas swarmed with tens of thousands of fleeing civilians, displaced from earlier fighting. Thousands died during the fierce battles, a decade ago this week. 

    The Greystone compound, outside of the US Embassy walls but nominally controlled by the US government, and covering barely an acre in area, held an astounding 30,000 IDPs in deplorable conditions, without much food or water. Mortars hit the huddled masses here exactly ten years ago today, killing at least 20, including young children. 

    While the massacre made the nightly news, I can't find any footage of the incident on the internet. I remember that James Barbazon's Liberia: An Uncivil War included the massacre and also gave an incredibly rare insight into the chaos of Monrovia in that week. Here is the best I could find on YouTube, including clips of the hopped-up young fighters loading up mortar rounds and haphazardly pointing them skyward: 

Today, the new United States Embassy, opened in 2012, is located in the old Greystone compound. Supposedly there is a small memorial to the victims of the massacre on the embassy grounds, although it isn't much noted. In fact, I have seen very little in the press, or on social media all spring marking the painful events of 2003 leading up to the end of Liberia's civil conflict. 

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