Roaming militias spread terror in Liberia’s bush
HARDEL TOWN, Liberia, Sept 13 (Reuters) - "They come at night. They take our money and our belongings — mattresses, tarpaulins, bags of rice," said Joel Garnett, peering from a mud hut in the Liberian bush village of Hardel Town.
"Last night they even wanted to take the dog to eat," he said on Friday.
Drifting bands of militia fighters are spreading terror in the West African state’s countryside as regional peacekeepers fan out from the capital Monrovia to try to end nearly 14 years of conflict.
The 650 peacekeepers who deployed to create a gun-free zone around the central town of Kakata this week hold the main road from Monrovia, but they are hard pressed to clear fighters out of jungles criss-crossed by muddy tracks.
"What are you doing here? If I see you again I will seize your weapons," Nigerian Colonel Mac Nyokoko shouted at two men from the "Wild Geese" militia, caught at a road junction where they were not meant to be.
"Yes sir. Understood sir," they responded sheepishly to the peacekeeping officer before accepting a ride back to their bush camp.
The militiamen, many in their teens, were the core fighting force of pariah leader Charles Taylor. But he flew into exile a month ago and now they are fending for themselves.
Aid workers say the fighters, many unpaid for months or even years, often open fire near villages, faking rebel attacks to frighten people away and steal their possessions.
Eyeball-to-eyeball with the commander of the Wild Geese and a dozen of his rugged men, the Nigerian chief of operations for the 3,200-strong Ecomil force made plain that he did not believe militia complaints of attacks.
"There are no rebels here now. You are doing the shooting to scare people. You are the ones taking people’s things," said Nyoyoko, walking off as the militiamen stood to attention and saluted.
Disarmament is not the job of the West African force, which intervened as a stopgap to keep warring factions apart. A much larger United Nations force is expected over the next few months.
Militiaman Dasso Swaroy, Kalashnikov at the ready and a belt of ammunition around his neck, said he was ready to hand the lot over to the U.N. blue helmets as soon as he could.
"But they have to give me something, some money to live by. Then, I won’t disturb anybody again," he said.
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