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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Once Elite Liberia Hotel Home to Misery of War

MONROVIA, Liberia -- In the twisted logic of war, the displaced civilians cowering in a ruined hotel in Monrovia are occasionally thankful for the bullets that whiz over their heads.

"We have no food, and the bullets pick the plums for us!" said Timothy Holt with a grin, pointing to leaves sliced off trees when incoming rounds send people diving for cover.

Ducor Hotel is perched on the highest point of Monrovia with a splendid view of a fiercely contested bridge on the frontline in a bitter two-week struggle between government troops and rebels looking to oust President Charles Taylor.

Gone are the days when African heads of state lounged by the turquoise pool overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Gone are the days when hundreds celebrated in the marble-floored banquet hall, and gone are the beds, the carpets and the chandeliers .

The hotel is a now a shell where there is only ruin, squalor and misery, where the all-pervasive smell of human waste mingles with the odor of rotting foliage and rubbish outside, all sodden from the incessant tropical rain.

Soldiers hugging the bare concrete walls in case a bullet flies in peer out from what is left of the windows, down onto the old bridge where their brothers-in-arms are blasting away at rebels on the other side.

Outside, Major Jackson of Taylor's Anti-Terrorist Unit, or ATU, barks into his radio to commanders dotted around the besieged capital, pointing out rebel strong-houses across the bridge.

It was a different story before civil war broke out in the West African country nearly 14 years ago.

Emmanuel Dieh remembers fondly the time when the hotel was the jewel of the Liberian capital, a magnet for visiting dignitaries and foreign businessmen.

"When Idi Amin jumped in the pool, everybody got out quickly," says Dieh, 51, who started out as a cashier in 1978.

"Look, my picture is here," he says pointing to a photo in a hotel brochure, where he can be seen chatting on the telephone behind a cash register in the coffee shop, his 1970s afro silhouetted against the windows.

But there are no windows left in the coffee shop, which looks onto the oval swimming pool.

A small tree grows at the pool's deep end near a pair of black high-heeled shoes, a rusting chandelier and the broken plastic base of a parasol once used to shade guests.

"I feel so bad," said Dieh. "The rooms used to be on the $125 basis. Now it's zero. It's a displaced camp and base for the ATU."