Residents of Monrovia began fleeing their homes early Monday and normal activities ground to a standstill after the sounds of heavy artillery bombardment rocked the capital.
The sounds were coming from the northwest suburb of Arthington, about 20 kilometers from Monrovia, and home town to Liberian President Charles Taylor.
Offices and business centers were closed down while parents rushed to school campuses to collect their children. Commercial and other transport vehicles disappeared immediately and people had to walk for miles to get back home. Humphrey Hill runs a rubber farm in Arthington. Mr. Hill says rebels of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy group, or LURD, entered Arthington Sunday evening and burnt down the military barracks built by the president for use by his elite force, the Anti Terrorist Unit.
The 65 year-old rubber farmer said he walked for hours to reach Monrovia where he'll seek refuge until the military situation in the area stabilizes.
Defense Minister Daniel Chea confirms that LURD rebels entered Arthington. He says the battle has intensified between government troops and the rebels at several fronts.
General Chea says the attacks on Arthington, Clay and Tubmanburg are diversionary and intended to distract government forces as the rebels fight to retake the strategic central Liberian city of Gbarnga, 170 kilomters north of Monrovia.
The Monday morning artillery bombardment caused hundreds of armed government troops to take over the streets, setting-up roadblocks and in one instance preventing vehicles from heading to certain directions of the capital.
Against this backdrop, President Charles Taylor moved to reassure residents the situation was under control. In a nationwide broadcast he urged them to go about their normal activities.