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Liberia Government Retakes Key Positions - 2002-05-16

Jubilant government troops have celebrated the recapture of Arthington, the hometown of President Charles Taylor, about 25 kilometers northwest of Monrovia.

This followed days of a fierce gun battles, including artillery, between government troops and rebels of the group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy.

The fighting Monday created fear and panic among Arthington residents. Normal activities in Monrovia were interrupted amid reports that the rebels were closing in on the capital.

Since then, there have been claims and counter claims between the government and rebel forces as to who exactly is in control of Arthington. During my visit to the area on Wednesday, it was clear that Taylor forces had regained control of his birthplace.

Situated on the hills of the northwestern suburb of Monrovia, Arthington had benefited from Liberia’s post-war reconstruction efforts. Before the rebel attack, the town had regular water and electric power supply with newly reconstructed and rehabilitated buildings.

Notable among them, were the president’s private home, his mother’s residence, a mini military quarter for use by the presidential elite force, the Anti-Terrorist Unit, the ATU.

But these infrastructures became the targets of LURD rebels. The small military barracks was burnt down. A Baptist church normally attended by president Taylor was damaged by fire as well. The president’s residential palace was also the target of an attempted arson attack.

Broken window glass was scattered in the yard of President Taylor’s private home. It was difficult to determine whether or not the house was broken into because the doors still appeared sealed off.

The Commander of government forces in the area, Edwin Railey, said the broken windows resulted from the heavy artillery bombardment during the battle for control of the area. At least one or two other houses in the vicinity of the president’s house were also burnt reportedly by the LURD rebels.

Some of the towns on the road leading to Arthington were totally empty. There was absolutely no sign of civilians.

Commander Railey, surrounded by dozens of armed bodyguards, said he was happy to retake Arthinton and called on civilians who fled as a result of the fighting to return to the area.

But some civilians who are currently seeking refuge in Monrovia and other nearby areas say they will not rush back to their towns until they feel the areas are secure.