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Taylor Repeats Promise to Leave Liberia; Violence Continues in Monrovia - 2003-07-27

Liberian President Charles Taylor marked the war-torn country's 156th anniversary of independence Saturday with more promises that he would step down from office, but it hasn't slowed the fighting. Violence continued during the weekend, leaving at least 14 civilians dead as rebel forces kept up their assault on the capital, Monrovia.

The United States government, through its embassy in Monrovia, has urged the rebels to end their offensive on the capital. The U.S. ambassador there, John Blaney, told journalists on Sunday that the Liberian government has agreed to the proposal.

But rebel forces remained on the offensive and were reported to be driving toward President Taylor's own troops in the battle-scarred capital.

Mr. Taylor has reiterated his promise to vacate office after peacekeeping forces arrive in the country. But the deployment of a contingent of regional peacekeepers has been delayed as the fighting in Monrovia continues to rage.

U.S. President George Bush has ordered U.S. troops to take up a position off the coast of Liberia to support the planned West African peacekeeping mission. But it remains unclear whether any American troops will be sent ashore.

African expert Alex Vines of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London told VOA this week that the rebels probably see this as their last chance to take the capital by force.

Shelling of civilian areas of the city was sustained through the weekend. At least three were killed and 55 others wounded when shells hit a church Saturday where dozens had taken refuge from the fighting. Aid workers said more mortar rounds had landed overnight in the same area.

Meanwhile, the few health workers still operating in Monrovia say they are struggling to treat the wounded. Aid organizations are warning of an impending humanitarian disaster in the overcrowded city where drinking water and food are in dangerously short supply.

Liberia has suffered 14 years of civil war. Originally set up by freed American slaves, the people of Liberia are now looking to the United States for help.