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Liberian Rebels Battle for Monrovia - 2003-07-19

In Liberia, rebels are advancing on the capital, Monrovia. Residents in and around Monrovia are fleeing to the city's center.

The Liberian government has confirmed that rebels have taken a strategic bridge over the River Po, and are continuing their advance on the capital.

The sound of small arms fire and mortars, only heard distantly from the city's northern limits Saturday morning, could be heard in the very heart of Monrovia by the afternoon.

The rebel advance sent thousands of frightened civilians streaming into the center of the city seeking shelter. They struggled with all the possessions they could carry.

The government has accused the rebels of breaking a cease-fire agreement signed last month in Ghana.

The rebels, who control most of Liberia, are demanding that President Charles Taylor resign his office and get out of Liberia immediately. But Mr. Taylor says he won't go until an international peacekeeping force is stationed in Liberia.

Regional peacekeepers have been promised before the end of the month, and the United States is considering whether to send peacekeepers.

Liberia was founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century, and has had strong ties with the United States over the years.

Washington has been under international pressure to intervene in Liberia, much as the former colonial power, France, has intervened in Ivory Coast, and Britain has restored peace and led peacekeeping operations in its former colony Sierra Leone.