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Thousands Seek Safety in Central Monrovia as Rebel Push Continues - 2003-07-20

The rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy has ignored a plea from the U.S. ambassador to Liberia and is continuing its advance on the capital, Monrovia. Hundreds of residents have been caught up in the fighting as rebel and government forces clash on the threshold of the city. Ambassador John Blaney made a direct appeal to LURD rebels Saturday to halt their assault on Monrovia and respect the safety of civilians.

Thousands of people have converged on the capital center seeking refuge from the fighting. They too want the rebel advance to stop and have taken to the streets in protest of the resumption of hostilities.

The government has accused the rebels of breaking a ceasefire agreement signed last month in Ghana. The rebels say a ceasefire can not be observed by one side only. It accused government forces of attacking rebel positions.

Rebels forces control four-fifths of Liberia. They want to see President Charles Taylor out of office and out of the country immediately.

President Taylor, who has been indicted for war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone, says he will not leave until a peacekeeping force is in place.

Regional peacekeepers were initially due to begin arriving in Liberia, but those plans have been delayed and a preliminary survey team has yet to arrive.

Though not the only rebel group in Liberia, LURD is the most prominent. The Taylor government has been under attack from the rebels since 1999.

The rebel campaign moved from the countryside to the capital. The current attack on Monrovia is the third since June 1.