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Liberia Fighting Moves Closer to Capital - 2003-06-24

Fighting in Liberia is shifting back toward the capital Monrovia, despite a cease-fire signed last week by rebels and the government. The clashes come as Liberian peace talks in Ghana also appear to be breaking down.

Soldiers and aid workers say heavy fighting is taking place in areas northwest of Monrovia, where hundreds of people were killed earlier this month before a rebel advance stopped for a few weeks.

Now, the government and rebels are accusing each other of violating the cease-fire across Liberia, including near the capital.

The rebels, who control most of the west African nation, have been repeatedly pushed back by militias and government forces when trying to capture Monrovia.

The fighting comes as peace talks in Ghana to establish a transitional government without President Charles Taylor are faltering, with rebels threatening to boycott the talks.

The rebels are accusing west African mediators of failing to hold Mr. Taylor to the cease-fire deal.

Rebels say they only signed the cease-fire agreement after getting assurances Mr. Taylor would step down immediately. But Mr. Taylor now says he will stay until the end of his term, which expires in January, and he says he might run again when new elections are held.

A rebel leader in northern Liberia, Edward Farley, says that if Mr. Taylor refuses to leave power, full-scale fighting will resume in Liberia. "What is happening in Ghana now is something political and what is happening in Liberia is military," said Mr. Farley. "Whatever happens in Ghana we will expect good results but when Mr. Taylor is unprepared to leave under the terms and references of the cease-fire there will be problems in Liberia continuously."

Mr. Taylor has also warned peace talks will fail if a U.N.-backed court in Sierra Leone does not lift an indictment against him for war crimes.

The special United Nations court in Freetown has refused to lift the indictment. Instead, it has increased pressure on Mr. Taylor, asking neighboring countries to arrest Mr. Taylor if he leaves Liberia.

Monday, Swiss authorities acting in accordance with a request from the U.N. court froze several bank accounts allegedly linked to Mr. Taylor.

It is not known how much money is involved in the action at this stage. The latest Swiss statistics indicate its banks hold more than $1 billion belonging to Liberian interests.

Mr. Taylor, a former rebel leader, has been accused of smuggling weapons, diamonds and timber in west Africa since the late 1980s, charges he denies.

Non-governmental organizations are calling for the establishment of an international peacekeeping force in Liberia, but an initial cease-fire verification team has been delayed in arriving because of the renewed fighting.