Hundreds Die in Massacre by Liberian Troops : Civil war: As many as 600 refugees are killed in a church. Survivors say the soldiers were President Doe’s.
Troops loyal to Liberian President Samuel K. Doe massacred at least 600 refugees, including babies in their mothers’ arms, in the sanctuary of a church where they had fled for safety in war-torn Monrovia, witnesses said Monday.
State Department officials in Washington said late Monday that their information, based on reports from U.S. Embassy staff members still in Monrovia, put the death toll closer to 200.
Doe said rebel guerrillas in government uniforms committed the atrocity, but the United States discounted this version.
Survivors of the attack said about 30 government soldiers burst into St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on the outskirts of the city Sunday evening and butchered men, women, children and babies with guns, knives and machetes.
The entire floor of the church was thick with bloodstains, and bodies were found under pews where people had tried to hide. The bodies of boys aged 7 or 8 were draped on the church altar, and a pile of bodies was half-hidden in a dark corner beside the altar.
Dead women lay on the floor with children still wrapped in shawls on their backs. The church crucifix had been thrown to the ground, and bullet holes riddled the ceiling.
Bodies of some people apparently killed while trying to flee were hanging from the window frames of the building, said one person who visited the church.
“My people, help me. My son--where is my son? I beg you, don’t leave me,” pleaded an injured woman lying on the church steps. A man nearby, his neck slashed, called out for water.
About 2,000 refugees had taken shelter in the church since rebel forces, fighting a seven-month-old civil war to oust Doe, reached Monrovia three weeks ago.
The witnesses said the soldiers broke down the church door by firing machine guns into it and then opened fire on the refugees point-blank. Witnesses said the soldiers then went to the upper floor of the compound and shot at hundreds of refugees sleeping there.
There is no phone in the church, so victims had no way of calling for help.
Soldiers ordered some women who tried to flee with their children to stand aside. Other soldiers then fired on them.
“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 church attic during the massacre.
On Monday, the church compound was filled with the bodies brought outside after the massacre. People passing the church appeared numb at the sight of rows of corpses.
Survivors said the soldiers were from Doe’s Krahn tribe while most of the refugees were from the Gio and Mano tribes, staunch supporters of the rebel armies. The rebels now control most of Monrovia and are poised to move in to overthrow Doe, guarded by a few hundred soldiers at his seafront executive mansion.
The Bush Administration issued a statement condemning massacre, calling it a “senseless act of terror” and blaming it on forces controlled by President Doe.
Doe’s government blamed the massacre on rebel soldiers disguised in government uniforms. But U.S. officials insisted that “our indications are that it was government troops that were involved,” according to Deputy Press Secretary Hart.
But Administration officials said President Bush had no plans to send U.S. military forces to Liberia to stabilize the situation, as some diplomats and Liberian leaders had urged over the weekend.
“If you’re asking whether we’re going to intervene, we’re not going to,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. “We don’t think our role is to intervene in the conflict directly.”
The massacre was the latest atrocity in an increasingly bloody three-cornered civil war involving Doe’s forces and two rebel groups, one headed by Prince Johnson, a former lieutenant in Doe’s army, and Charles Taylor, a former senior official in Doe’s government. The three forces each claim several thousand men under arms and each draw strength from different tribal groupings within the country.
Johnson split with Taylor months ago, and his fighters invaded the capital last week and advanced to within a mile of the presidential mansion.
Johnson indicated Monday he had no intention of working with Taylor. In a meeting with foreign correspondents in Monrovia, he accused Taylor of being a Libyan-backed socialist and said he had received $8 million in aid from Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi.
“He is not going to come here now and make himself president. I will meet Taylor after Doe is overthrown. I don’t want power, I want a fair election. Taylor will manipulate the election,” Johnson said.
Johnson said: “I will get Doe. He is not going to get away.” Johnson claims to have 7,000 men under his command, including 4,000 deserters from Doe’s army.
Times staff writer David Lauter in Washington contributed to this story.