Liberia's hungry cross lines in search of food

Saturday, August 16, 2003

MONROVIA, Liberia -- Embracing loved ones and gulping down whatever food they could find, tens of thousands of hungry Liberians on Friday broke through the front lines that had divided the capital for 10 weeks of deadly siege. U.S. Marines and West African peacekeepers stood guard as the first aid ship docked.

Singing gospel songs, women surged over a bridge lined with bullet casings and shrapnel after crowds overran razor-wire barricades in search of rice, oil and other goods. All around, men and women toted bags, baskets and even wheelbarrows on their heads as they ventured out for food.

Monrovia's New Bridge had been a deadly a no man's land since July 19, separating the cut-off and soon starving government side from the warehouses and other stockpiles around the rebel-held port.

Fighting in Monrovia has killed well over 1,000 people, and left hundreds of thousands of others wasting by the day.

A 14-year-old girl, Soleh Sando, stopped to accept a woman's gift of cornmeal, which she swallowed raw. "I haven't eaten in four days. I don't need to cook it today," she said.

Nearby, Musu Daffah dropped a bowl of cornmeal and ran sobbing into the arms of her sister, 24-year-old Memma, who was coming home after surviving repeated mortar attacks on the government side. "Hallelujah," Daffah cried. "Hallelujah."

Rebels withdraw

Celebrations followed the rebels' withdrawal from the port and much of the surrounding areas. They remained on the edges of the capital Friday, rather than withdrawing to the Po River, miles outside Monrovia, as agreed.

The pullout, negotiated by an 11-day-old West African peace mission and U.S. diplomats, was in keeping with the rebel pledge to lift their siege of Monrovia once warlord-president Charles Taylor resigned and left the country, and once peacekeepers deployed.

Withdrawal opened the port, and the wealth of food around it, to residents and refugees who'd subsisted on leaves, spiny snails and little else on the government side.

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