Anticipated peace in Liberia proved to be elusive

"Its all the wrong way round. You want to leave having done something to improve the situation, but we have had to leave at a time when everything is getting worse," said Neils Hahn
"At the beginning of the week Liberians were very optimistic about the peace negotiations - they thought that after so many years and so many failures something really might happen and there was a chance that peace could come to Liberia without further violence. "The President - Charles Taylor - had announced that he was ready to step down, if that was what it would take to get peace, and he was under so much pressure that he would have been prepared to sign anything. Then on Tuesday Taylor went to Ghana and, during the negotiations, he was issued with an indictment by the Special Court of Sierra Leone for his role in the Sierra Leone civil war. "The rumours came back very fast to Liberia. People thought he had actually been arrested and there was panic as people started to close down the shops, take their children out of school, get their families back home and leave the streets. After the optimism of just a few days before, people started to be really afraid. It was a really sudden switch between the two emotions. "Then it was announced by the BBC that Taylor had been indicted but not actually arrested and that he was coming back to the Liberian capital. On Wednesday Taylor was back in Monrovia and everything became a bit calmer, but then it appeared that there may have been an attempted coup and the Vice-President "disappeared". "The next day - Thursday (June 5)- there was intensive fighting near to Monrovia and it was advancing very fast towards the city - it was said that about 50,000 to 100,000 people were moving towards the city. The authorities tried to stop people coming into Monrovia, but there were too many people and the pressure became too much, so they started to flood in. "Some of them gathered behind Redemption Hospital where the MSF team was working and other people just walked around with the very few belongings they had, not knowing where to go and trying to look for some sort of protection. "MSF had been working in the camps for displaced due to the conflict in Monserrado - just north of Monrovia - but they had to stop working on Wednesday (June 4). A member of the team - Tom - went back to assess the situation in the camps on Thursday and he heard heavy fighting close to the camps and people were starting to leave. Inside Monrovia some soldiers are as young as 15. Outside of Monrovia, I have seen boys as young as nine or ten carrying very large guns. "During Thursday night everything happened very quickly and the fighting was rapidly getting closer to the centre of the city. On Friday morning we discussed whether we should try and get to the airport or not because it is about one hours drive out of town and we didn't know whether we would be able to reach it. At lunchtime we were told by a contact from the ICRC that the rebels were ready to cut off the road to the airport and that if we were going to go we should leave straightaway. "At the checkpoints around Monrovia we could see from soldiers' body language that the situation was very tense, but as we travelled out of town nobody really knew what was going on. We made it onto a flight to Freetown and now we are waiting to see what happens. The remaining six members of the MSF Belgium team stayed in the EU compound (note: currently there are only three international MSF staff left in Monrovia). "I had been working in Monrovia since August completing the rehabilitation of a health clinic in a place called Clara Town. The opening ceremony was supposed to have been on the June 16. Invitations for the inauguration of the building have been sent out! I just heard that the fighting reached Clara Town this morning. I don't know whether the clinic is still there or not. It's a strange way to leave the place. Its all the wrong way round. You want to leave having done something to improve the situation, but we have had to leave at a time when everything is getting worse.