"Thousands May Die in Monrovia Because of Food and Water Shortage"

St. John of God Catholic Hospital Issues Serious Warning

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MONROVIA, JULY 29, 2003 (ZENIT.org-Fides).- "The rebels have penetrated the city center: innocent civilians are fleeing as mortars and bullets rain everywhere," a missionary doctor at the St. John of God Catholic Hospital in Monrovia told "Fides" Service.

For two weeks the Liberian capital has been caught in violent crossfire between LURD rebels (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) and army troops loyal to President Charles Taylor.

"The situation is getting worse by the hour. People do not know where to go for safety. Death may come when you least expect it, like yesterday when a mortar hit a Protestant church killing at least seven people who had sought safety inside the building," the doctor said. "Some 40,000 people are camped inside the sports stadium, others have taken refuge in churches and hospitals," he added.

The doctor described the situation at Monrovia's St. John of God Catholic Hospital: "We have eighty patients at the moment which is not a lot. There would be many more but it is difficult for people to bring the wounded to us because the streets are so unsafe with gangs of armed men robbing and looting everywhere. Normally we have a staff of seven doctors but not all are present at the moment because the street fighting makes it impossible to get here. A container with medical supplies for us is blocked at the port.

For the time being we have sufficient supplies but if we had to face an emergency with the arrival of more wounded I don't know what would happen."

With regard to the humanitarian situation the doctor said: "The food shortage here is becoming acute because humanitarian food deposits are in rebel-controlled zones. Water is also scarce and the situation is worse every day, electricity power is often cut off for long periods. Thousands may die unless the food and water shortage is alleviated," he continued.

"Only an intervention from outside can improve the situation: neither the rebels nor Taylor can or want to stop the massacre," the doctor concluded.

A Nigerian African peacekeeping force is expected to deploy this week in Liberia, while U.S. navy ships are taking up position off the Liberian coast. Washington has said that its troops will only intervene when a curfew has been imposed and Taylor has relinquished power.

On Sunday, July 27, Pope John Paul II made another anguished call to the conflicting parties: "Faced with the suffering of those beloved peoples, we cannot fail to call on all those with weapons in their hands to lay them down in order to make way for dialogue and concerted action by the international community."