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Liberian Troops, Rebels Clash Near Monrovia

Fierce fighting has broken out on the outskirts of Liberia's capital, Monrovia.

Battles between government and rebel forces on the western outskirts of Monrovia have sent thousands of people fleeing to the center of the capital.

"Thousands of already displaced people that used to live in camps are trying to reach Monrovia and security forces cannot stop them because you are talking big numbers, it's very volatile," said Mr. Rafirasme, the West Africa spokesman for the World Food Program. He said the fighting is in an area where there are many refugee camps. "Between eight to 10 kilometers from Monrovia you have a number of camps and the total population of those camps is about 120,000."

Liberian authorities say the rebels, known as Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, were pushed back after starting their new offensive on the capital earlier this week, but returned with heavy fire.

The fighting has marred the start of peace talks in Ghana this week. The talks were also disrupted when a U.N. backed court in Sierra Leone indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes just before Mr. Taylor arrived in the capital Accra on Wednesday.

Mr. Taylor, himself a former rebel leader, has fueled instability throughout West Africa by supporting different rebel groups, including Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front.

Ghanaian authorities refused to arrest Mr. Taylor on Wednesday saying it would endanger efforts for peace in Liberia. After attending the opening ceremony of the peace talks in Ghana, Mr. Taylor returned to Liberia, where he says his forces also foiled a coup attempt while he was away.

Mr. Taylor says he is ready to step down next year when his current term expires and prepare a government of national unity. Liberian opposition leaders, in Ghana for the peace talks, said Thursday it will be difficult for them to trust Mr. Taylor.

Rebels who now control more than 60 percent of Liberia say Mr. Taylor should step down immediately.