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The capital of Liberia resembles a ghost town. Few people venture into the streets that soldiers loyal to President Samuel Doe rule with the ferocity of men painted into a corner.

"You just halt when I give you an order," a sergeant screamed at a passing car Saturday, pointing his M-16 automatic rifle straight at the driver.The car screeched to a halt. "You a rebel or something?" the sergeant asked with nervous irritation, his finger trembling on the trigger.

One group of soldiers pounced on a civilian, tied his hands behind his back and bundled him into a waiting truck. He had been "recognized" by one of the soldiers, his compatriots said. The man was savagely beaten but the look on his face showed he didn't know why.

The soldiers, wearing shabby uniforms, were red-eyed from lack of sleep and heavy drinking. Many soldiers have sneaked away from this rebel-encircled capital in civilian clothes, hoping to escape the final carnage.

But some are caught at rebel roadblocks. The rebels look for soldiers posing as civilians by checking their shins for marks left by army boots.

Youths - most of them members of Doe's Krahn tribe - are being taken off the streets to be given "emergency military training," as other government soldiers put it.

That means they are issued rifles and ammunition and sent back into the street to "keep order."

Only troops manning their checkpoints in groups of three or four are visible along Monrovia's straight avenues.

Most of Monrovia's 500,000 inhabitants are crowded into their houses. They strain for a look at what is going on but few wander into the open.

In street after street, all the shops and churches are shuttered. The windows of many shops are smashed, a sign of looting. Government offices are open but empty.

Civilians tried to demonstrate for peace a month ago and troops opened fire to disperse the crowd.