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NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ULTIMATE EXPLORER "Liberia" © Anne Sherwood
msnbc.com
updated 11/24/2003 7:56:28 AM ET 2003-11-24T12:56:28

National Geographic Ultimate Explorer correspondent Michael Davie and an Ultimate Explorer film crew journey to Liberia, the African country founded by freed American slaves, to investigate firsthand a civil war at its most intense. Airs Saturday, Nov. 29, 8 p.m. ET

FOR MONTHS LIBERIANS had been pleading for support and aid from America as this African nation struggles to end a 13-year civil war. To understand why they turned to the U.S., Ultimate Explorer correspondent Michael Davie ventured to Liberia, directly into the heart of the chaos and bloodshed. Within days of President Bush’s demand that Liberian president Charles Taylor resign, Davie and the Ultimate Explorer team recorded the momentous events as they unfolded, bringing home an unseen portrait of the nation that is at the root of widespread unrest in West Africa. Just when most news organizations started pulling out of Monrovia, the Liberian capital, the Ultimate Explorer team settled in for some of the most startling war coverage to emerge from this horrendous conflict.

Upon arrival the team finds a city divided, devastated and under siege. The war’s toll can be seen everywhere. Families are separated, and the humanitarian crisis intensifies with a critical lack of food and medical supplies. Gangs of boy soldiers carrying AK-47s act with impunity both inside and outside the capital. Throughout it all, Ultimate Explorer’s cameras capture the growing turmoil. Despite the ruthless violence and danger, Davie is determined to walk the streets to get to know the people on both sides of the conflict. He even crosses the frontline into rebel territory to meet the boy soldiers. The team is struck by the resilient Liberians, especially the remarkable women who have suffered at the hands of the boy soldiers and those who are dedicated to helping the wounded cope and heal.

Davie encounters civilians who express a kinship with America and believe the U.S. should come to their aid because of that shared history. Liberia’s founders, who called themselves Americo-Liberian, set out to create a “little America” and a model of democracy on the African continent. America’s influence can be seen everywhere and the ties have spanned decades. During World War II, Liberia was a staging ground for U.S. troops fighting in North Africa and the main source of rubber for the war effort; during the Cold War, Liberia was an ally in the U.S. fight against communism in Africa. But as the Cold War waned, U.S. interest in Liberia faded.

After days amidst the chaos, the team has a hair-raising evacuation in U.S. Black Hawk helicopters. They, along with other journalists, fly from the American Embassy. A week later, the team returns to Liberia to witness the final march of events: international peacekeepers fly into the capital, U.S. Marines set foot on African soil for the first time since Somalia in 1993, President Taylor resigns under international pressure and a city under siege explodes into celebration when rebel forces lay down their guns and hand over control of the port and downtown areas.

Join Davie and the Ultimate Explorer team on an extraordinary journey to Liberia, at its most dangerous, as it emerges from some of the darkest days since it was founded in 1847.

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