he is only 14 years old, Ernest Kollie has been
fighting in Liberia’s
civil war for three years. His determination to
kill his enemies has won him promotion and he now
has six other fighters under his command.
rebels killed my father. Maybe they killed my
mother too,” said Kollie last week, as he
ordered one of his bodyguards, aged 13, to fetch
his machinegun from a vehicle parked at a petrol
station in Monrovia, the capital. “So, when the
government soldiers came, I had to be with them.
am only fighting because I want revenge. I know I
am still small and I want to go to school. All we
really want is for peacekeepers to come here to
end this war.”
by his nom de guerre of Sugar Water, Kollie was
wearing a woman’s wig. Such wigs are commonplace
among fighters of all ages on both sides of the
war. They are meant to conceal identities and are
sometimes used to cover up magic charms on the
head, which are believed to make the wearer
bulletproof or even invisible.
is not the only soldier in Liberia
who is desperate to see outsiders step in to end
fighting in which more than 1,000 people have died
in recent weeks as the rebels have tried to topple
President Charles Taylor’s regime.
Toagbey, 16, one of many teenage girls who are
fighting, is also eager to greet the peacekeepers.
“Look at this mess,” she said as she stood
guard at a checkpoint. “We are just here every
day fighting. I have not seen my son for three
arrival of peacekeepers appeared to come closer
dithering for weeks over whether to send troops,
representatives of west African states are due to
meet in Ghana
tomorrow to finalise details of an operation
involving two battalions of Nigerian soldiers.
George W Bush has ordered American troops to take
up positions off the coast, but no date for their
arrival has been set and officials said the
warships carrying them were still seven to 10
days’ sailing time away.
Annan, the United Nations secretary-general, has
said he hopes the American troops will play a
leading role in a multinational peacekeeping
force. Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman,
has nevertheless been vague about Washington’s
intentions. “We will continue to assess what the
role is in supporting (west African
peacekeepers),” he said.
reticence has provoked growing anti-Americanism
among Liberians who claim Bush has a duty to help
a country founded in the name of liberty by freed
US slaves more than 150 years ago.
says this war will stop, it will stop,” said
Joseph Toe, who was among an angry crowd gathering
last week outside the US
embassy. “We are dying every day. We want them
to come to help us.”
carnage continued unabated yesterday despite a
fresh truce called by rebel commanders who said
they had told their men to fight only to defend
themselves and their positions.
church crowded with refugees near Monrovia’s
port was hit, killing at least seven civilians and
wounding over 30.
said five shells slammed into the ground around
the Greater Refuge Temple, perched on a hill
overlooking the rebel-held port.
sixth hit the church directly, exploding at
among refugees who had bedded down for the night.
have so far striven in vain to take Monrovia
and drive out Taylor, a former warlord blamed for
14 years of near- continuous conflict. Fighting
has focused on the port and three bridges leading
to the centre of town, one of Taylor’s
two sides have accused each other of repeated
shelling into densely populated civilian
neighbourhoods. Last Friday shells pounded an area
around the American embassy, hitting homes and a
school filled with refugees. That attack killed at
least 26 and wounded more than 200.