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New Liberia Fighting Prompts Fears of Cease-Fire Collapse

Renewed fighting has broken out close to the Liberian capital, Monrovia, prompting fears that last month's cease-fire agreement between the government and rebels could collapse.

Liberian Defense Minister Daniel Chea has accused rebels of breaking the terms of the June 17 cease-fire accord by taking key positions close to Monrovia.

The rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy has taken the strategic Klay Junction, about 40 kilometers northwest of the city. On Friday, fighting was reported near the Po River Bridge, which the rebels have used to enter the city during previous offensives.

The latest clashes have sparked panic among the residents of Monrovia, who fear there could be a repeat of last month's deadly rebel incursion, in which hundreds of people were killed. Previous fighting has sent tens of thousands of civilians fleeing into Monrovia's center to seek refuge.

The rebels want to see an end to the government of President Charles Taylor. The cease-fire agreement called for the immediate establishment of a transitional government without him.

The rebels have said they would agree to the deployment of a peacekeeping force if Mr. Taylor leaves Liberia. President Taylor says he will not leave until a force is in place.

Efforts are under way to organize a first wave of African peacekeepers by the end of the month. The United States has been reluctant to send in troops without the involvement of African nations.

Liberia is Africa's oldest republic and was established by freed American slaves. The United States has longstanding ties to the country, and has come under international pressure to help restore stability there.