December 31, 2002
Forced enlistments, civilians exploited as weapon-bearers and sexual slaves:
"I am 24 and come from Kolahun district. My village was attacked last September. My father was killed. I fled with the rest of my family and all the people from the village who'd managed to escape. We spent seven months hidden in the forest for fear of meeting up with the soldiers or the rebels. At the end of April, we tried to leave. LURD fighters (rebel forces) captured us. They made us carry their weapons and their equipment. I finally managed to get away."
Soldiers and civilian authorities on both sides of the border tightly control access to Guinea. Abuses are common while international oversight in assuring that the refugees' basic rights are respected is irregular at best.
"Guinean soldiers arrested me at the border. They told me I had to give them 5,000 Guinean francs or they would throw me in prison. Since I didn't have the money, I had to work for five days in the fields belonging to one of the soldiers to pay off my ransom. They let me go on the sixth day."
Many men are refused entry into Guinea and returned to Liberia by force. Others are arrested or detained for several hours or days for "interrogation." The border areas have simply become zones where no rights are respected.
For those who receive authorization to remain in Guinea, a long wait begins.Stuck in transit camps a few miles from the border, thousands of people are waiting to learn where they will be transferred. Their status is extremely uncertain. In violation of international law, they do not receive an official refugee card. The refugees' treatment and care does not satisfy even minimal criteria.
Last spring, the media showed brief interest in the fate of tens of thousands of refugees and displaced persons in this West African region.Since then, fighting in Liberia has uprooted even more people, creating internally displaced persons and sending others to neighboring countries. The measures taken to protect and assist these people do not meet their needs.
These problems persist nearly five months after MSF published a report on the dire humanitarian situation in the Mano River region. The international community has not addressed the problems underlined in the report and have not taken the steps needed to ensure the protection of refugees, displaced people and returnees. Until then, war-affected civilians who seek a safe refuge will find continued abuse instead.
Individual Interviews at the Tekoulo Transit Center (July 25, 2002)
Interviews in Fassankoni Village (July 27, 2002), MSF Mobile Clinic Visiting Day
Interviews in SedimaÃ¯ and DopomaÃ¯ villages, Macenta Prefecture (August 2-3, 2002)
Liberians in Kuankan Refugee Camp, Nzérékoré province, Republic of Guinea (August 24, 2002)
Interviews in the village of SedimaÃ¯ (July 26)
Interviews in the Tekoulo Transit Center (July 15, 2002)
42 year-old teacher, born in the village of Woniahou, Foya District
Steven left his native village January 6, 2002 when it was attacked by government forces. He heard shots and panicked cries, then fled into the bush with his family. He says that his village has since been deserted, having been burned down by government troops. Several days after the fighting, he returned to see the damage. The village's entire population fled in different directions. He was in the bush with a group of some 30 others for several months, afraid of being captured by the fighters. They ate what they could find in the bush.
He heard that seven villagers were taken by government troops into the bush after a July 1 attack, but he did not observe the incident. He says that people were taken by government troops into the bush and were sent to Sierra Leone or other regions of Liberia where they had to work for the soldiers.
After hearing that the situation was relatively normal, his group, now numbering 50, emerged in Kolahun, a village that was subsequently attacked by government forces. They fled once more towards Voinjama, and, finally, to Nyandemoylahun, on the border with Guinea. His group arrived at this final village in mid-July. He confirms that his village, Zorzor, Kolahun, Voinjama and Nyandemoylahun are controlled by LURD. Civilians who wanted to flee to Guinea converged on this last village and awaited the LURD's authorization to cross the river, which constitutes the border. There are hundreds of civilians in the village waiting to flee into Guinea, but apart from these people in transit, the village is only a LURD military-administrative outpost. People must be interviewed in the LURD office and explain why they seek to cross the river. The wait authorization can last from several days to weeks.
Once they arrived on the Guinean side, the group waited 4 days at the Ouetkama border crossing post before being transferred to Tékoulo. In Ouetkama, they had nothing to eat, and there was no humanitarian aid or NGO presence (there is some in Tékoulo). He has been in Tékoulo for 10 days, hoping to be transferred to Kuankan. He is with his wife and their four children; two of their other children are already in Kuankan with his sister. He does not have a refugee card, but only an unofficial scrap of paper for food distribution. He has no freedom of movement : the Guinean soldiers guard Tékoulo and they cannot leave the site, which is small and crowded. They are not allowed to go to the village to buy food or for any other reason.
He says that he has neither seen nor heard anyone talk about incidents in which Guinean soldiers have harassed the refugees (note: the refugees are nervous when asked to talk about what happens on this side of the border, while they speak willingly about violations by/of the DHs on the other side of the border or other actions by the military on the other side. One explanation for this is that they know they are in a precarious situation, a few kilometers from the border, without a refugee card and in a camp under the strict control of Guinean soldiers.) He also says that he saw young Liberian men turned back or stopped at the border while he was in Ouetkama (he does not know by whom), but has not seen people turned back since he was in Tékoulo. Of the nearly 30 people in the group he initially fled with into the bush, some 20 are in Tékoulo, including all the members of his family. The others did not manage to cross.
A mason in his late 50s, born in Kolahun village
Kolahun was attacked by government troops early in the morning on Monday, July 15, 2002 - market day. The AFLs encircled the town, fired their weapons in the direction of houses and shot a shell into the center of the village. Kowoguilavogu was in bed with his two children (approximately 7 and 10) when the attack began, while his wife and mother were in the village center. He fled immediately into the bush with his children. People ran in every direction to save themselves. His two older children had already left the village several days earlier for Guinea. They waited a few days in the bush until things calmed down. They had no food and they had left all their personal belongings behind. The village was sacked and partially burned. A few hours after the surprise attack, AFLs left the village, taking all the villagers' belongings. The LURD retook control of the village (Trans Q). In the bush, Kowoguilavogu learned that his wife and mother were killed during the attack. He decided to head for Guinea through the bush. There is no violence in the bush, he says, but the roads are very dangerous.
He says that government troops - but not the LURDs - oppress civilians. On the other hand, he acknowledges that the LURD strictly controls departures for Guinea. They reached Nyandemoylahun village where, supposedly, there were 500-600 civilians waiting LURD authorization to cross the river into Guinea. He says that the young men and women were not allowed to go to Guinea. They returned to their home villages or worked for the LURD. The only way for a young person to obtain a pass is to pay a large sum to the LURD or to make oneself valuable to the LURD.
He stayed in Nyandemoylahun for two days before obtaining a pass. He had to work a little for the troops (transporting food and material). He paid 50DL for the pass and 10DL for crossing the river by canoe. He had no possessions but he knew that prior to crossing, the LURD confiscates civilians' possessions. He was not taxed or stopped by soldiers on the Guinean side. However, he did see LURD forces with Guinean troops at the Guinean border post. He had to wait 48 hours at the Ouetkama Guinean border post with another 500 people before being transferred to Tékoulo. Only 200 people were transferred to Tékoulo. The remainder stayed in Ouetkama. In Tékoulo, Kowoguilavogu found out that his two other children were already at the Kouankan camp.
A 42 year-old blacksmith, born in Fassavoulou village, Kolahun District
Fassavoulou village, with 500-600 inhabitants, was controlled by the LURD when government troops attacked on June 28, 2002. Everyone fled into the bush. Abraham learned that two civilians were killed during the attack. The LURD retook control of the village, but his group decided to stay in the bush because they feared another attack. They remained there until July 10, the day they reached Nyandemoylahun. In fact, displaced people have to pass through this village before crossing the river into Guinea. It is impossible to cross directly from the bush because the river is the border, and the village is the only place where one can find canoes - the river is too large to swim across.
In Nyandemoylahun, there are 200-300 civilians waiting. They must obtain a pass from the LURD, which costs 50LD (note: I saw the pass with the LURD seal, signed on July 12 by LURD agent S-2, granting an ill man and his four children the right to cross to Ouetkama. According to Abraham, to obtain a pass you must be old, infirmed, or transporting an sick family member. You must also leave all your belongings behind. He had to leave oil supplies. He confirms that boys, in general, are not granted passes unless they pay a higher price or tell the LURD that they are sick. From his group, some 20 people were left behind on the Liberian side. To cross the river by canoe, one must pay 200FG.
On the Guinean side, the LURD are with Guinean soldiers. Abraham did not pay anything to the Guinean soldiers. Also, the Guinean soldiers sent people back to Liberia on the advice of LURD soldiers (especially young men and women who could not pay and who were of combat age). He was registered by the Guinean authorities for the first time. He remained in Ouetkama for three nights before being transferred to Tékoulo on July 15. According to him, the LURDs are present in Ouetkama with Guinean soldiers.
Three small groups arrived in Tékoulo after his. After their arrival in Tékoulo, they were registered a second time by Guinean authorities (accompanied by MSF.) He did not see any cases of people being sent back at this second registration, but he knows, of course, that the authorities separate people and do send some back at this stage, too, especially young, monied men who have managed to bribe their way through the two earlier checkpoints. He knows that men were sent to jail on Saturday, July 20, and that some, but not all, later arrived at the site. He never saw the HCR at the site, and that same HCR was not present at the registration in Tékoulo. He had only his LURD card and the scrap of paper for food provided by MSF, and no refugee card. The refugees in Tékoulo could not leave the site guarded by the Guinean soldiers.
Humanitarian aid in Tékoulo is inadequate. He only had the right to one real meal daily (crushed corn) in the evening and a thin porridge in the morning. There has been no rice, even though that is key to their diet. They received just one blanket per family, while it was very cold at night during the rainy season. Finally, about 50-60 people were housed in a shared shelter with no privacy, and it was difficult to sleep. He was in the camp with his eight children. His two wives and other children were already in Kuankan.
(NB: There are supposed to be around 3,000 refugees in this village. The UNHCR has no presence and the subprefecture registers the arrivals. The HCR stopped by on June 27 to collect the refugee lists. The first refugees to arrive have been there since June 5-6 and are still waiting to be transferred to Kouankan. People have only one ticket for a future food distribution. The local population is under pressure as there is not enough food for everyone in the middle of the rainy season. The refugees have no freedom of movement. Certain men were separated from the group and sent to jail).
On June 19, 2002, a 35 year-old man, a Liberian refugee from Boukossans, Zorzor district, tried to intervene when the Guinean military arrested one of his friends accused of collaborating with the ULIMO rebels (c.f. next testimony). The man was threatened by the soldiers and "taxed" 10,000 Guinean francs (FG) for having intervened. He had to sell his shoes for 8,000 FG and borrow 2,000 FG from his friends to raise that amount.
28 year-old young man, Liberian refugee also from Boukossans. When he arrived in FASSANKONI with his wife and two children on June 15, 2002, the Guinean soldiers asked him his name. He had the same name as a ULIMO rebel sought for the attack on the village in October 2000. He was accused of being a rebel and imprisoned. He has been in prison ever since. His friend, who had wanted to intervene with the authorities, was taxed (c.f. prior testimony). His wife and two children have no food. On July 27, 2002, the Guinean military acknowledged that the man was not a rebel. He has still not been released and the soldiers are demanding that his wife pay 5,000FG for his freedom. He receives no food or medical care in prison.
– This testimony was taken on July 27 from his wife and the friend who sought to intervene with the authorities for his freedom. We did not meet the prisoner.
A 27 year-old young man, refugee from Zorzor, Lofa County, was arrested at the frontier by Guinean soldiers on July 21, 2002. The soldiers used extortion to get 5,000 FG from him. He had to pay or would be thrown in prison. The man did not have the amount demanded, and to avoid prison, he worked without pay for 5 days in fields belonging to one of the soldiers. He was finally released on the sixth day.
On June 14, 2002, six young Liberian refugee men were arrested by Guinean soldiers in Kouankan and were referred on to Fassankoni. They were accused of collaborating with the Liberian ULIMO rebels. After detention and questioning, they were found "innocent" but were required to pay 10,000FG per person for their release. The jailed Liberian men did not have the money. To pay back their 60,000FG debt to the subprefect, they arranged a "contract" under which they would be "paid" 1,000FG/day for working in the fields of Fassankoni residents. This day labor did not include food.
In the Fassankoni region, the wage for one day of fieldwork without employer-provided food is 1,500FG per person. With food, the day's wage is 1,000FG.
"I'm a 24 year-old man. My name is â€¦ and I come from Boukossans, in the Lofa region. On June 29, the Liberian soldiers took us into a forest with many men, women and children. During that time, our village of Boukossans was attacked by ULIMO rebels. After walking for three days in the bush, the rebels attacked the soldiers on July 3, 2002. We all panicked. We fled -- my older sister, her son and I. My mother, 69, and the rest of the group and of my family are still in the hands of the Liberian soldiers. I entered Guinea at Fassankoni on July 23 with my big sister and her son. We have been housed in the allowed to leave the room. The soldiers block us. We've asked HCR for help, to be evacuated as soon as possible to the Kouankan refugee camp so that we can be free and receive food. Since we arrived, we've only gotten food from HCR once, on Friday, June 26, 2002."
"I'm a 38 year-old man and a Liberian refugee. Zorzor was attacked on June 4, 2002 and we fled the fighting into the bush. When my family (five people) and I reached the border on June 8, 2002, Guinean soldiers arrested us as we were leaving Liberia. When we reached the Fassankoni police station, they told us we had to pay 10,000FG for each person because we hadn't crossed the border by the main road, but in the bush. (Refugees typically cross by the main road. Those who cross via the bush are systematically suspected of being rebels.) After apologizing to the subprefect, we each paid 5,000FG. We didn't have the money. Since then, we have been working under contract in the fields every day to pay off that money. We earn 1,000FG/day, without food."
"I am a 45 year-old man and a Liberian refugee. I crossed the Liberia-Guinea border on June 7, 2002 with my wife and 18 year-old daughter. When we reached the first Guinean village, Y., the soldiers told us to continue on to Fassankoni Lacking the means to pay for transportation to Fassankoni, we had to spend the night in Y. The soldier demanded that we give him my daughter for the night if we wanted to stay there and sleep in the village. What did we do? We gave him our daughter so that we could eat and go on to Fassankoni the next morning."
"I am a 32 year-old man and a Liberian refugee. During the attack on my village, Bonkossans, Zorzor district, on June 10, 2002, by ULIMO rebels, we fled toward the Guinean frontier. When we reached the first Guinean village, Y., after being stopped by soldiers who were looking for rebels. The women and children were freed. We, the 10 men, were arrested and accused of collaborating with the rebels who had attacked Fassankoni. During our detention, the Guinean soldiers tied the men together, two by two, with cords. The cords were very tight and were left in place for more than 12 hours. Some men were burned on their legs and arms by cigarettes and beaten with plastic tubes on their backs. When they were released, two of the men who had been tied together back-to-back could no longer use their hands. They couldn't hold a tool, couldn't feed themselves for a week and two weeks later, they were still unable to hold a pen."
"I want to tell you my story so that this will stop. When my hands are healed, I'll be able to write it myself. Our imprisonment lasted one week without our families knowing anything about our detention. We were attached, tied together and taken to the Kouankan military camp. We suffered through three days. They interrogated us. Then the soldiers understood that we were just simple refugees. They took us back to Fassankoni and demanded that we pay 10,000FG per person before being released. We had to ask the authorities to let us have contracts to work in the fields so that we could pay. We cleared the coffee and cacao fields for 12 days so that we would pay the 20,000FG. We gave that money to the authorities and finally we were set free."
"I arrived in Tekoulo three months ago. I left Liberia on May 10 at 2 o'clock in the morning after attacks by the Liberian army against the rebels. I arrived in Tekoulo on May 15 after spending four days in the bush without eating.
I left behind my wife, my four sons and my daughter. When I arrived in Tekoulo, I was arrested by Guinean soldiers, accused of being a collaborator of the Liberian rebels that attacked Tekoulo in November 2000. All the women and children were free to pass, but Guinean soldiers arrested the men. We were taken to the Guekedou military camp, tied together, bound, accompanied by another group of nine refugees, also prisoners. We were locked up for two weeks in Guekedou. We ate once a day, scarce portions. After they conducted all the checks, we were all released on June 3, 2002 and they abandoned us in Guekedou. We didn't have the means anymore to get to Tekoulo camp.
One of my old friends at the small Guekedou market took me to his house, and I quickly left the others I'd been with. My friend took me to his home in Diomandou, in the Daro subprefecture, Macenta prefect. I stayed in Diomandou for a month. Then I asked my friend to help me get back to Tekoulo so that I could be transferred to Kouankan and also get news of my family. When I arrived in Tekoulo on July 15, I asked the representative of the Tekoulo refugee camp (he could not provide more precise information on the identity of this representative) to help me transfer to Kouankan.
Two days later, on July 17, 2002, I became ill. I had severe bloody diarrhea and malaria. I was transferred to the Macenta hospital in the HCR ambulance, which was leaving for Kouankan camp. The first and second days, I was treated for free. Since then, I have had no food aid or medications either from the hospital or from HCR. Every day, I eat thanks to the help of people from the therapeutic feeding center in Macenta. And I still have the same illness and same living condition. Three days ago I received a medical bill from the doctors for 40.000FG. If I don't pay this amount, I won't be treated so I'm asking all the NGOs to come help us.
I thank the MSF team, which intervened with the HCR doctor and allowed me to be admitted to the N'Zerekore hospital at HCR expense."
He is accompanied by a friend's two children, who were separated by their father during the attack and is still in Liberia.
"Our village of Bokessa was attacked on June 29, 2002, by ULIMO rebels. I was lucky to be able to get into a house and shut myself up there. Liberian soldiers took my my wife and my three children. (Government forces were in the village at the time of the attack. During their flight, they abducted women and children.)
Two days later, the ULIMO rebels took us all to the border, telling us that it wasn't safe in the village. We entered Guinea through DopamaÃ¯ village. Our group stayed two days in awful conditions without food. In DopamaÃ¯, we found other refugees who were living in the same awful conditions and we all continued to SidemaÃ¯ on July 5.
When we arrived in SidemaÃ¯, the village chief counted us all. That day, we were 450 refugees. We were asked to pay 1000FG per refugee to the village chief. Lacking money, we asked the chief if we could do day labor in the fields to pay. The second day, we all started working in the fields from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For this work, we were each given 1000FG and food.
And we are still working for food and we don't have a house to sleep in and we must spend the night in the school, without a door or window. Since we arrived here, we received food once from the HCR (July 29 World Food Program distribution) and the villagers tell us to leave their village because famine is coming because the number of refugees grows every day and we are asking HCR for help to transfer to the refugee camp."
"On June 15, 2002, our village was awakened by loud gunshots coming from Voinjama. We all fled towards the Guinean border.
We met a group of soldiers from the Liberian government's forces and they took us hostage, ordering us to stay and die for our country. We spent four days in the bush, still held by the soldiers, with nothing to eat but wild fruit. Two days later, we heard gunshots coming closer to where we were. We all fled (civilians and soldiers) towards the Guinean border. When we reached the DopamaÃ¯ entry station, the children and the women were allowed to pass. The men were closely guarded by Guinean security and then they let us enter freely. The five Liberian government soldiers were arrested and disarmed and the rest of us continued on" towards the village of DopamaÃ¯ where we spent one night in very bad conditions (no food, sleeping outdoors).
The next morning, I went to the village of SidemaÃ¯ with my two wives and five children. When we arrived in SidemaÃ¯, we were put on a registration list and he asked us to pay 1,000FG per person in registration fees. I had to sell my watch for 8.000FG to a Guinean soldier so that I could pay for my family. We were housed at the public school. I had to agree to daily fieldwork contracts so that I could feed my family, and since our arrival we've received food from the HCR only one time, on July 29. We don't have mats or blankets and we spend the night on the ground, exposed to all sorts of illnesses. Take my son, 3 years old, who has malaria. The MSF medical team help us. We asked the HCR for help to transfer to the refugee camp because the villagers hate us."
32 year old student, originally from Voinjama District, now living in zone 12 of Kuankan
As he headed for the market in the center of Kuankan camp at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 24, 2002, four well-dressed Liberian men (Mandingos) "jumped on him ". He had never seen the men before before, believes they were not camp residents. The men tried to force Anthony into a truck parked along the main road in site 8. A fight broke out, which drew a group of curious bystanders. The four unknown men said he had to return to Liberia to fight. They tore his shirt and, in the midst of the commotion and confusion of cries of protest from spectators, he managed to escape. He immediately related the incident to the chairman of zone 12, Monsieur Peter. He also told him that the fight was still underway in zone 8, and that the four men who were still looking for combat-aged men.
Very upset, Anthony and Peter notified an MSF staff member. According to Anthony, this was the first time such an incident occurred since he arrived at the Kuankan camp in mid-June 2002.
Yabasu Kpazuo Worday
31 year old student, originally from Zorzor District, now living in zone 12 of Kuankan
The story is almost identical.
Around 2 p.m. on August 24, 2002, Yabasu was walking along a secondary road in zone 8 toward the Kuankan camp market to buy some corn. Six well-dressed Liberian men (Mandingos) he'd never seen in the camp told him to follow them and climb into a truck parked a few meters away on the camp's main road. Given their appearance, Yabasu feels they were probably not refugees. The six men then asked him to identify where he was from in Libéria. When Yabasu said he is from Zorzor, they said that he had to get into the truck to join his brothers at the front in Lofa. He could see the truck with four men already on board.
They began to fight and furious refugees gathered. A Guinean soldier arrived and asked the men the whereabouts of their commander. During the discussion, Yabasu managed to flee, running back towards zone 12 to notify his chairman. He found the man with a friend and with an MSF staff worker.
According to Yabasu, that was the first incident of its kind since he arrived at Kuankan June 4, 2002. On Friday, he'd heard rumors that rebels would be conducting forced recruitment in the camp in the coming days. Even though he had never witnessed such an incident, he did say that rebel trucks frequently circulated along the camp's main road and on the main road running between the camp and the village of Kuankan, approximately 5 km away.
He said he also heard rumors about forced recruitment taking place in the camp and at the village market in Kuankan at the end of May 2002. He further said that the chairmen of the different zones complained to the Guinean authorities (the subprefect of Kuankan village, the head of the BNCR, the national refugee coordinating bureau, in the camp and the head of the Guinean army in the camp) and the HCR. Such forced recruitment ended temporarily after the complaints were made.
NB: Following these discussions, the chairman of zone 12 and the head of MSF drove to the camp entrance to alert the Guinean soldiers, the HCR and the BNCR to these developments. When they arrived at the camp's main road near the market, they saw the truck with a dozen refugees on board and some 50 furious onlookers. The truck took drove toward the camp's exit, followed by the MSF pick-up. At the camp exit, the Guinean soldiers, showed no resistance and let the truck pass. Questioned by the MSF supervisor, the soldiers said the truck was probably going to the market, but in the absence of the HCR, the BNCR supervisor and their commander, they were not authorized to stop the truck and they didn't want any problems.
Note: Approximately 700 refugees were in SedimaÃ¯, equal to or slightly greater than the village population. Like the villagers, they are Thomas/Bandi. The village is a few kilometers from the border on the road to Zorzor. The river narrows, so the refugees swam across, and there is no military-administrative checkpoint on either side of the border.
He was in the bush when Zorzor was attacked in early May. He fled for safety before the attack because he heard rumours that one was imminent. The group of 600-700 people remained in the bush for a month because they feared they would be captured on the road by fighters or turned back at the border by Guinean soldiers. They had a hard time finding food. They reached SedimaÃ¯ on June 6. When they received assurances that the situation in Zorzor was stable, everyone left together and swam across the river. There were no controls either on the Liberian or the Guinean side of the border.
Since David's group arrived in SedimaÃ¯, the U.N.HCR had conducted two short visits. On the first, HCR representatives compiled lists of refugee names that the village chief completed. On the second, June 26, U.N. representatives distributed two packets of biscuits per refugee and promised to transfer the refugees to Kuankan. Nothing had happened since. The sub-prefecture registered the group when they arrived. David had a coupon dated June 26 (for biscuit distribution, with the sub-prefecture's seal) but no refugee card. To survive while waiting, the group worked in the fields for Guinean farmers, but the food was not sufficient. The villagers were in a similar situation, as they had to share with the refugees even though there wasn't enough food for the rainy season. The group wants to be transferred as quickly as possible because tensions in the village are rising and the authorities are angry. More Liberians - nearly 50 people --arrived on July 20. In all, three groups of Liberians from Zorzor district have arrived here since the beginning of June.
24 year-old Bandi man, born in Kpanehew (Kolahun District), Instructor
The AFL attacked his village on September 27, 2001. He was ill at the time. The entire village fled into the bush and lived there for several months, not daring to return for fear of meeting up with AFL soldiers or LURD rebels. There are 10 other people in his family. His father was killed during the fighting. His mother, wife, a little boy, two sisters and five other relatives remain.
Any movement seemed impossible prior to April. The LURD prevented people from fleeing toward the north and required them to stay where they were. Beginning in April, the pressure lifted (perhaps because fighting intensified and the LURD pulled back). People came out of the bush to flee. As they were leaving the bush, the LURD captured them and forced them to carry LURD supplies. Nonetheless, they managed to escape. They fled towards the north and reached Ouetkama on Monday, July 9. He spent a full week in Ouetkama without receiving any aid. He worked for some local people cutting weeds in a marsh in preparation for planting. In exchange, he earned a little money or food. He says he did not see any deaths in Ouetkama.
Several of his family members were brought to Tekoulo before he was. He was taken there on Monday, July 15 with his little boy. He says he did not have to pay for the trip. He was one of the first to leave the screening, which is somewhat odd for a young man, but he was alone and responsible for the little boy, who was ill. He heard that his family members were in Kouankan and hoped to be taken there.
a young man, English-speaking, Bandi not asked his age (this was his first interview and he was not used to the process; his English was difficult to follow).
He arrived in Tekoulo on Wednesday, July 11.
He comes from the village of Koutoulahun Town in Kolahun district. When they saw soldiers coming to fight the ULIMO (United Liberation Movement for Democracy), they fled into the bush. Soldiers captured them and took them to town to work (Kolahun, where they stayed for a month). Living conditions were very harsh and they decided to flee again for Guinea. He left on his own, as the AFL had taken his wife. He says he left at least 10 family members behind when he fled into the bush. He has relatives in Kouankan (nearly 20 people from his village, who were supposed to have been transferred already), so he would like to go there . This is the first time he has come to Guinea.
a woman who says she doesn't know her age, non-English-speaking (translation by Prince Koné), from Baloma (Loukosso), Bandi.
She arrived in Tekoulo on Saturday, July 13. Her husband died around November, killed by AFL forces in Kamata - Massala. He was brought there by LURD soldiers, who had taken him by force to carry their loads and to work in Kouankan (She begins to cry.) Later, around December 8, six of her children were seized by the AFL in Baloma. She fled into the bush with her three young children. With another 20 runaways (from Baloma and neighboring villages), they lived in the bush for five months and ate what they found. They decided to leave the bush in hopes of finding a solution in town. They reached Kolahun, where they heard about the Guinea and Kouankan camps. They hadn't tried to reach the camps before because they had not known they existed. They fled Kolahun because there was no food there, either. They were abused several times on the road by LURD soldiers, who tried to keep them from passing and wanted to send them back to Kouankan It took her six days to reach Guinea from Kolahun. She carried her son on her back and her two little daughters walked. She says she had no problem crossing the border. She reached Ouetkama, where she spent three days without eating. She says her sister is in Kouankan and she would like to go there.
a 42 year-old English-speaking Bandi, born in Gbandahéwa where he teaches and is the principal at a school with 15 teachers.
Around 45 LURD rebels arrived in the village. The inhabitants were not hurt because the rebels were also villagers. Two days later, the AFL attacked the village. This was the first time the village was attacked since the war began in Liberia, although there was fighting in Kolahun two years ago. His village destroyed, he fled to Kolahun where living conditions were very harsh. He took his 10 family members with him. On June 7, AFL forces attacked the village so they fled into the bush. Then he decided to send the entire family to Guinea, from where they should have been able to reach Kouankan. Many people were then fleeing Kolahun (according to him, this was the largest wave of departures, although the largest attack on the village was supposed to have been on Christmas Eve, 2001). P. K. stayed because he wanted to gather his belongings. He finally left Kolahun on Friday, July 6, walking for two days to reach Ouetkama. Along the way, he encountered LURD soldiers who took him captive. They had looted a car and used Prince to carry the tires. Following along with them, he entered Guinea without problem (he knows that the price at the border is usually $50). When the LURD soldiers arrived in Ouetkama, they sold the tires and let him go. They hadn't given him anything to eat in two days. In Ouetkama, he slept in the school compound and did not receive any food. He estimates that some 600 - 1,000 people were waiting in Ouetkama (he knew that Telikoro then housed 600 people so his guess seems credible). There, the LURD soldiers decided to recruit porters again to carry bags of rice in the opposite direction. He took advantage of a convoy of 645 people. It took him two hours to reach Tékoulo from Ouetkama on foot. He says the Guineans did not mistreat him.
He wants to reach Kouankan where his family has taken refuge since early June. A refugee woman in Kouankan who came back to Kolahun to find her relatives brought him a letter from his family. They all know Kouankan because many people went there following the December attacks. Additionally, BBC News has a major following in the Telikoro camp.
He believes that MSF provides all the food in Telikoro. He does not distinguish between MSF, Action Contre la Faim (ACF), probably, the UN, whose representatives visited two days before the interviews. He received medication for his eye and is doing better, although he says there is not enough food and that he is ill. They sleep 60 to a tent. All the people are Bandi from Kolahun district.
According to him, the LURD holds Kolahun. There was no more fighting in Kolahun but considerable combat around the town. As long as fighting continues, he will not go home.
a 78 year-old Bandi farmer born in Ngokorhun
He fled his village, which was attacked by government forces around six months ago (between December and February). He fled into the bush but LURD soldiers forced them to return to town. Otherwise, they would be considered rebels (by LURD rebels). The government attacked the town again and they fled once more, this time to a second village, Taninahun. They were subjected to another government attack and fled to a third village (Nyandemoylahun). The LURD was holding that village and refused to let young people flee to Guinea and the camps. He was able to pass because of his age, but he had to pay the LURD 50Â£. All together, they are a family of 10 and it is not clear if they all paid to pass. With LURD authorization, they crossed the border and reached Ouetkama, where they spent two days without food. They left for Tekoulo, where they arrived on Saturday, July 13, after walking for two or three hours. They were nine in the transit camp. One son, who arrived earlier, was already in Kouankan.
According to him, the people of Kolahun District fled into the bush en masse but were turned back each time by the LURD. They want to go to a refugee camp. They are relatively satisfied in Tekoulo but hope to go to Kouankan.
a 27 year-old Bandi teacher, born and living in Gbandeewa, Kolahun District
It was not easy to get here.
The AFL attacked his village on April 7, 2002 and everyone fled into the bush. The LURD found them and took them all to Kolahun. They spent three weeks there working for the rebels. At that time he was with his blind parents, his wife and two children. They worked in the coffee and banana plantations. Living conditions were very harsh. They fled into the bush but were attacked by AFL forces who killed several fleeing villagers. They fled again and reached Gwoukwanhou. The government attacked again and they fled towards Kyandemahoun. There they bought passes for the six people. They reached Ouetkama, where they spent three nights and he bought food. He did not see deaths in Ouetkama. He paid to come to Tekoulo (he is one of the few to say so, but perhaps that's because he is a young man). He reached Tekoulo on Saturday, July 13. He received food and will see a doctor.
© 2013 Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)