Residents flee ethnic clashes in northern Liberia

Thousands of residents fled Liberia’s second-largest commercial city of Ganta after hundreds of young men from the Mano ethnic group attacked homes of the rival Mandingos early on Wednesday, an Agence France-Presse reporter in the town witnessed.

Armed with machetes, clubs and rocks and chanting “we are ready for you Mandingos”, the Mano youths invaded the main Mandingo residential areas at around 1am local time, attacking people and ordering them out of the town.

Nohn Tehsohn-Nohn, mayor of Ganta, a commercial hub linking Liberian capital Monrovia with Guinea, estimated the militants to have numbered around 2 500.

A doctor at the main hospital told AFP seven people had so far come for treatment, mainly for lacerations and other minor injuries.

“They beat me and took 3 000 Liberian dollars (about $75) from me,” Adama Keita, a businessman from Mali, told AFP.

The attack was in apparent response to rumours circulating in the town situated on the border with Guinea that Mandingos were planning to attack the Manos so as to reoccupy properties they lost during the country’s years of civil conflict.

Liberian national police, backed by hundreds of Bangladesh United Nations peacekeeping forces, intervened some three hours later to protect the Mandingo areas, before Tehsohn-Nohn asked the youths to calm down.

“Please go home and leave the streets because what you heard is not true. No one is going to attack you,” Tehsohn-Nohn told the crowd.

Witnesses estimated that half of the 20 000-strong population of Ganta abandoned their homes overnight and are believed to be hiding in nearby forests.

Mandingos and Manos had peacefully co-existed in Ganta until 1989 when an armed rebellion led by Charles Taylor — who later became president of Liberia — began in Nimba county.

The Manos joined Taylor to fight government troops under then president Samuel Doe, leaving the Mandingos supporting the state.

When Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) wrested control of Ganta in 1990, the Mandingos were kicked out of the city, with most of them crossing the border to seek refuge in Guinea.

While in Guinea, many joined the Liberia United for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd), an insurgent group that sought to oust Taylor’s government.

In August 2002, Lurd forces attacked and captured Ganta after a week of intense clashes and shelling of the town, but a month later Taylor’s forces, made up of the Manos, recaptured Ganta from Lurd.

Angry over the destruction of the city by Lurd, the Manos seized all land and properties belonging to Mandingos.

Though democratic elections ushered in a new government and peace generally prevails across the tiny West African country, most Mandingos are unable to return to their homes, which are occupied by Taylor’s loyalist ex-fighters. — AFP

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