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Fighting Escalates Between Liberian Government Forces, Rebels - 2003-06-07


Fighting between Liberian rebels and government forces has escalated on the outskirts of the capital, Monrovia, despite peace talks which started in Ghana this week to try to end the four-year civil war. Liberian President Charles Taylor faces increasing pressure to step down.

On Saturday, battles between the main rebel movement, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, and government troops took place under heavy rains within 10 kilometers northwest of Monrovia's city center.

Aid workers say thousands of frightened people fled the fighting, heading south, trudging through flooded streets.

Envoys for the rebels and peace mediators pleaded for an end to the fighting Friday at the peace talks in Ghana, without success. The talks have been postponed until Monday because envoys for another rebel group, known as Model, have yet to show up.

The rebels, who control more than two thirds of Liberia, are calling on Mr. Taylor to step down immediately.

On Friday, the U.S. State Department ordered the evacuation of all non-emergency personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher also called for an end to the fighting, establishing a new transitional government and holding elections.

Mr. Taylor was in Ghana on Wednesday for the opening of the peace talks when a United Nations-backed court in Sierra Leone unveiled an indictment accusing him of war crimes during Sierra Leone's civil war in which he was the main backer of the Revolutionary United Front.

Ghanaian authorities allowed Mr. Taylor to return home, where he said his forces also foiled a coup attempt while he was away.

Mr. Taylor is himself a former rebel leader who won elections in 1997 after seven years of bloody civil war.

Liberia was founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century as a haven of liberty.

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