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Shelling Continues in Liberian Capital - 2003-07-23

Shelling is continuing in the Liberian capital Monrovia, in spite of a call for a cease-fire by rebel leaders.

Rebel and government forces continue to clash in Monrovia despite the rebel leadership's call for a cease-fire Tuesday. The leader of the main rebel group, Sekou Conneh, made the call from Ghana, where he is participating in peace talks.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Liberian Defense Minister Daniel Chea said fighting is continuing. And he cast doubt on the rebel leader's ability to control his forces. "If Mr. Conneh claims that he is the leader, then militarily he should not be asking them, he should be ordering them to not only cease-fire but to pull back to the original lines where they were," he said.

Rebel officials could not be reached for comment.

A cease-fire agreement signed last month restricted the rebels to positions 25 kilometers outside of Monrovia. But the rebels moved into the city during the last several days.

Meanwhile, President Charles Taylor has continued to fuel speculation that he might resign. The New York Times quotes Mr. Taylor as saying he will leave office within 10 days. But his Information Minister, Reginald Goodridge, told VOA certain conditions would have to be met before President Taylor would step down, including the deployment of a peacekeeping force, which the president has already demanded.

In addition, Mr. Goodridge said the rebels would have to retreat to their cease-fire positions. "I think that certain things have to be put in place, because no one is addressing the issue of the vacuum that could be created in the event of his departure," he said.

Regional leaders are still meeting in Dakar, Senegal to discuss plans to send an African peacekeeping force to Liberia. Initially, troops were expected to be on the ground by now, but those plans have been delayed and with the fighting continuing to rage in the streets of Monrovia, no one is prepared to set a date for the troops' arrival.