Liberian fighters celebrated in the streets of northern diamond town of Bopolu newly retaken from the West African nation’s rebels, shaking AK-47s in the air and displaying a wounded, pleading enemy, the Associated Press reported Saturday Sept. 14.
“What happened to the rebels in this town was not a joke,” regional commander Gen. Roland Duo reportedly said, showing journalists around the now shell-pocked and looted diamond center of Bopolu.
Villages around Bopulu lay in burned ruins from fighting, the AP reports. Clashes continued to the south of the city.
President Charles Taylor’s forces are steadily retaking many of the towns captured earlier this year by rebels seeking to capture the West African nation’s capital and drive out Taylor, the AP reports.
The government lost Bopolu to rebels of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy movement in February. Then rebels were then gathering momentum for what became a failed May push toward the capital, Monrovia.
Duo’s forces, key to the recapture of a number of towns in recent weeks, drove rebels out of Bopulu on Wednesday, the AP reports. The government showed off the recaptured town late Friday. Government fighters paraded through gutted neighborhoods, thrusting the muzzles of their assault weapons in the air.
Fighters exhibited 23-year-old Bobby Wright, a rebel fighter who had crawled into the bush to hide after a government rocket shattered his leg, the AP reports. Pleading, the man, like many on both sides, said he was a civilian who had press-ganged into the fight. “It was not my intention to take up arms against my nation,” Wright reportedly told journalists.
Mocking government soldiers spoke of the price he would pay for fighting with the rebels, without elaborating, the AP reports. They stood at a distance to avoid the smell of his rotting leg.
Rev. Isaac Baker, among a handful of civilians trickling back into town, said rebels had held himself and about 30 others captive after taking Bopulu, the AP reports.
“We were living with the LURD people like slaves. They made us to tow bags of ammunition from the Guinean border to this town,” he reportedly said.
The minister and the others escaped, and spent the next four months in hiding until the town’s recapture, he reportedly said.
The U.N. World Food Program reportedly says 165,000 people displaced by the fighting are living in camps within Liberia. Tens of thousands more have fled to neighboring countries.
Rights groups report atrocities against civilians by both sides, with villagers and townspeople robbed, raped, tortured, killed or forced to join the fight as soldiers or porters.
Insurrection in Liberia, a nation founded by freed U.S. slaves in the 19th century, began three years ago in the north, near the border with Guinea.
Taylor accuses Guinea of supporting the rebels, which Guinea denies. Many of the rebels were fighters in Liberia’s devastating 1990s civil war, which ended with Taylor—himself a warlord—winning presidential elections in 1997.