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Heavy Fighting Continues in Liberia - 2003-06-26


Rebel forces in Liberia are closing in on the center of the capital, Monrovia, prompting a call by Britain for a U.S.-led intervention to stop the fighting.

Fighting resumed Thursday several kilometers from Monrovia's center as rebels firing mortars and rockets vowed to take the capital.

Rebel leader Edward Farley accused forces loyal to President Charles Taylor of violating a cease-fire signed last week. He says the rebels decided to abandon peace efforts in Ghana because they were going nowhere.

"We have given Mr. Taylor time to respect the ceasefire, but because he has violated the ceasefire we have to ensure that he doesn't violate it any longer," he said. "So we are going to be successful. Mr. Taylor has to leave, and he will leave."

Mr. Taylor has refused to step down to give way for a transitional government as stipulated under the ceasefire agreement signed in Ghana last week. He says he will remain in power until his elected mandate expires in January.

Renewed fighting around the capital since Tuesday has displaced thousands of people. Many of them have sought shelter in foreign diplomatic missions. On Wednesday, shells exploded at a U.S. compound less than one kilometer from the American embassy, killing at least three Liberians, including two embassy employees.

Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, Jeremy Greenstock, said Wednesday the United States would be a natural choice to lead a peacekeeping force in Monrovia. U.S. officials have said publicly they are weighing all options, but that first fighting must stop.

Ambassador Greenstock is now leading a United Nations Security Council mission that is touring West Africa. But the mission probably will not go to Liberia because of the ongoing fighting.

Rebels, who control most of Liberia but not the capital, say they would accept a U.S. deployment if it brings about the resignation of Mr. Taylor.

The United States has close historical ties to Liberia, which was founded in the 19th century by freed American slaves. But Mr. Taylor has accused the United States of supporting the insurgency by giving military aid to neighboring Guinea, which is a strong backer of the rebels.

Mr. Taylor, himself a former rebel, has been accused of fueling instability throughout West Africa by smuggling weapons, diamond and timber, charges he denies.

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