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Troops massacre 600

MONROVIA, Liberia -- Government troops stormed a Lutheran church and refugee camp and massacred about 600 people -- many of them women and children -- in an outburst of intertribal killing, survivors of the attack said Monday.

The survivors said a group of 30 soldiers burst into St. Peter's Lutheran church on the outskirts of the capital at about 9 p.m. Sunday and butchered men, women, children and babies with knives, guns and machetes.

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The survivors said Monday the soldiers used machine guns to shoot the door down and immediately opened fire on the ground floor, where as many as 2,000 people had taken refuge after fighting broke out in Monrovia three weeks ago.

'We thought they had come to ask us questions. Then they started killing, and everyone began screaming and trying to hide,' said one man who hid in the roof of the church while the massacre was going on.

A group of soldiers then went to the upper floor and opened fire on about 1,000 sleeping refugees. The survivors said they saw soldiers butcher the men with knives while the women and children were shot with machine guns.

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Soldiers ordered some women with their children who tried to flee to stand aside. Then other soldiers opened fire on them.

The soldiers were from President Samuel Doe's Krahn tribe, said the survivors.

Most of the slain refugees were members of the Gio and Mano tribes, which have formed the main support for the rebel armies that have fought their way to the base of the hill in Monrovia where President Samuel Doe is holed up in his heavily fortified executive mansion.

Most of Doe's troops are from his Krahn tribe and their allies, the Mandingos. Intertribal killings have occurred frequently during the six-month civil war.

In Washington, the U.S. government condemned the massacre of 'helpless and innocent' Liberians. The government urged all sides in the civil war to 'forego a military solution,' a spokesman said.

Reporters who visited the site of the massacre saw the entire floor of the church thick with blood stains. Bodies were huddled under the pews where people tried to hide. The bodies of 7- and 8-year-old boys lay draped on the church altar.

Beside the altar bodies lay in the corner of the dark building.

Dead women lay on the blood-stained floor with children still wrapped in shawls on their backs. The church crucifix had been thrown to the ground. Bullet holes riddled the ceiling.

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'My people, help me. My son, where is my son. I beg you, don't leave me,' pleaded an injured woman who had been lain on the church steps.

A man nearby, his kneck slashed with a cutlass, called out for water.

Survivors were seen Monday afternoon being rounded up by government soldiers.

Witnesses said the survivors -- who were mostly women and children -- were moved from the building by soldiers who shot into the air.

They reported many Gio and Mano tribe members were ordered out of nearby houses where they had taken refuge and forced to move under heavy army guard towards a nearby beach.

There was no indication what happened to them after that.

The church compound was filled with the bodies of women and children brought outside after the massacre.

People passing the church were numb and speechless as they saw the rows of corpses.

One witness who visited the church compound in the Sinkor district of Monrovia earlier said he had seen bodies hanging from the window frames of the church building, apparently killed while trying to escape.

'I saw dead bodies all around,' the witness said. 'This is genocide.'

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The church is one of Monrovia's six Red Cross-sponsored refugee centers. Relief organizations had set up the refugee camps and allocated civilians to them, but were unable to provide them with protection.

The Red Cross has been unable to cross the battle lines to reach the injured, as the city is now divided between the warring parties.

There was no immediate comment on the massacre from the Liberian Red Cross society, nor from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Steve Hart, deputy White House press secretary, added that the United States has made a 'standing offer to use our embassy to negotiate' an end to the conflict.

But a State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, said there were no plans to send U.S. troops to halt the fighting.

'The administration believes that it's not our role to intervene, to engage in peacekeeping or to impose a government or political system,' Boucher said. Ultimately, he said, 'the only durable government in Liberia will be one that the Liberian people have freely chosen.'

The refugees were among thousands of civilians who have fled from deadly street battles in Monrovia but have remained snared within the ever-shrinking area of the capital controlled by Doe's disintegrating army.

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Doe's troops have lost half the city center to the rebels since the middle of last week and now are confronted by fighters commanded by Prince Johnson, a rival to the other rebel leader, Charles Taylor.

Johnson, 38, said Sunday in his first meeting with Western reporters that he is leading the main rebel attack, not Taylor, who declared himself president last week.

'I will get Doe. He is not going to get away,' he said, claiming a force of 7,000 men, 4,000 of them deserters from Doe's army.

'We thought they had come to ask us questions. Then they started killing, and everyone began screaming and trying to hide,' said one man who hid in the roof of the church while the massacre was going on.

A group of soldiers then went to the upper floor and opened fire on about 1,000 sleeping refugees. The survivors said they saw soldiers butcher the men with knives while the women and children were shot with machine guns.

Soldiers ordered some women with their children who tried to flee to stand aside. Then other soldiers opened fire on them.

The soldiers were from President Samuel Doe's Krahn tribe, said the survivors.

Advertisement

Most of the slain refugees were members of the Gio and Mano tribes, which have formed the main support for the rebel armies that have fought their way to the base of the hill in Monrovia where President Samuel Doe is holed up in his heavily fortified executive mansion.

Most of Doe's troops are from his Krahn tribe and their allies, the Mandingos. Intertribal killings have occurred frequently during the six-month civil war.

In Washington, the U.S. government condemned the massacre of 'helpless and innocent' Liberians. The government urged all sides in the civil war to 'forego a military solution,' a spokesman said.

Reporters who visited the site of the massacre saw the entire floor of the church thick with blood stains. Bodies were huddled under the pews where people tried to hide. The bodies of 7- and 8-year-old boys lay draped on the church altar.

Beside the altar bodies lay in the corner of the dark building.

Dead women lay on the blood-stained floor with children still wrapped in shawls on their backs. The church crucifix had been thrown to the ground. Bullet holes riddled the ceiling.

'My people, help me. My son, where is my son. I beg you, don't leave me,' pleaded an injured woman who had been lain on the church steps.

Advertisement

A man nearby, his kneck slashed with a cutlass, called out for water.

Survivors were seen Monday afternoon being rounded up by government soldiers.

Witnesses said the survivors -- who were mostly women and children -- were moved from the building by soldiers who shot into the air.

They reported many Gio and Mano tribe members were ordered out of nearby houses where they had taken refuge and forced to move under heavy army guard towards a nearby beach.

There was no indication what happened to them after that.

The church compound was filled with the bodies of women and children brought outside after the massacre.

People passing the church were numb and speechless as they saw the rows of corpses.

One witness who visited the church compound in the Sinkor district of Monrovia earlier said he had seen bodies hanging from the window frames of the church building, apparently killed while trying to escape.

'I saw dead bodies all around,' the witness said. 'This is genocide.'

The church is one of Monrovia's six Red Cross-sponsored refugee centers. Relief organizations had set up the refugee camps and allocated civilians to them, but were unable to provide them with protection.

Advertisement

The Red Cross has been unable to cross the battle lines to reach the injured, as the city is now divided between the warring parties.

There was no immediate comment on the massacre from the Liberian Red Cross society, nor from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Steve Hart, deputy White House press secretary, added that the United States has made a 'standing offer to use our embassy to negotiate' an end to the conflict.

But a State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, said there were no plans to send U.S. troops to halt the fighting.

'The administration believes that it's not our role to intervene, to engage in peacekeeping or to impose a government or political system,' Boucher said. Ultimately, he said, 'the only durable government in Liberia will be one that the Liberian people have freely chosen.'

The refugees were among thousands of civilians who have fled from deadly street battles in Monrovia but have remained snared within the ever-shrinking area of the capital controlled by Doe's disintegrating army.

Doe's troops have lost half the city center to the rebels since the middle of last week and now are confronted by fighters commanded by Prince Johnson, a rival to the other rebel leader, Charles Taylor.

Advertisement

Johnson, 38, said Sunday in his first meeting with Western reporters that he is leading the main rebel attack, not Taylor, who declared himself president last week.

'I will get Doe. He is not going to get away,' he said, claiming a force of 7,000 men, 4,000 of them deserters from Doe's army.

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