MONROVIA, LIBERIA -- Life has collapsed into random terror and widespread starvation as rebel forces close in on beleaguered President Samuel Doe.
Since rebels began besieging the capital a few weeks ago, Doe's troops have been ransacking shops, restaurants, warehouses, offices and homes. In the morning, countless bodies bear witness to the random violence of the night before.
Some are headless, others are missing parts of skulls or limbs. Liberians say the missing parts are used in cannibalistic rituals by soldiers of Doe's Krahn tribe.
The stench of rotting flesh pervades Monrovia, a city scarred by rocket and mortar fire. A coconut plantation near the city's Atlantic Ocean beaches has become known as "the killing field" because of the number of corpses dumped there daily in trenches dug by bulldozers. Civilians blame Doe's troops for the killings.
But the rebels also have been responsible for civilian killings. In one incident last week, Prince Johnson, leader of one rebel faction, fatally shot a Liberian man wearing a Red Cross bib as he pleaded for his life.
Johnson had accused the man, who was handcuffed to a foreign relief-services worker, of profiteering from rice sales. "You are a traitor," Johnson said, as he fired a burst from his AK-47 assault rifle at the man. The man fell to the ground, wounded, and lifted his head.
"Why, why?" he asked.
Pointing at the dying man, Johnson said to the French relief worker, Jacques Monthouroy: "You are lucky you are a foreign diplomat." He then fired another burst at the pleading Liberian, killing him.
The victim's identity was not known. Monthouroy, a Frenchman working for the U.S. Catholic Relief Services, was released after the U.S. Embassy vouched for him.
Rice, the staple of Liberia's 2.3 million people, is scarce in the capital. Starving Monrovians are eating grass and weeds from seaside swamps and river banks to survive.
The city's water supply was cut off nearly two months ago. People scoop water from creeks, drains and ponds. Crowds stampede into gardens of homes that have wells.
No motorist is safe from robbery by Doe's troops, who menace the occupants of any passing car, including ambassadors, relief workers and Liberian legislators.
In late July, Johnson won control of the city's northern Bushrod Island suburb and two bridges linking it with downtown Monrovia, where Doe is holed up in his heavily fortified cliffside mansion.
The writer, an Associated Press photographer, spent 10 weeks in Monrovia until he was evacuation Monday by U.S. Marines.