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Liberian Minister Blames Rebels for Continued Fighting - 2003-08-24

Aid organizations report that thousands of civilians are on the move again in Liberia, fleeing from fighting that continues despite political progress toward peace.

Eyewitnesses estimate that up to 10,000 people have been displaced by a fresh outbreak of fighting near Liberia's second city, Buchanan. Fighters from Liberia's rebel group called the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, or MODEL, have been blamed.

According to Daniel Chea, the Liberian defense minister, rebels from LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy), as well as MODEL, are actively fighting government positions. He said a key bridge was attacked by rebel forces in the early morning hours near the central town of Gbarnga.

"I really lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of MODEL and LURD. They are the new aggressors," Mr. Chea said.

Mr. Chea told VOA that government forces are running low on ammunition and have no reason to fight. He said that the rebel aggressions have been reported to international peacekeepers.

"We put the violations to ECOMIL and the United Nations and hopefully they will intervene to make some sense out of the whole thing. The government of Liberia is through with war and we have sent such information and directives down to our men in the field," he said.

The apparent escalation of fighting away from the capital follows the signing of a peace accord in Ghana a few days ago.

Rebel leaders took part in those negotiations and were part of the group that selected businessman Gyude Briant to take the role of transitional president to oversee the rebuilding of Liberia.

The Movement for Democracy in Liberia and the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy fought for the removal former President Charles Taylor. Their campaign and considerable international pressure finally forced Mr. Taylor to take exile in Nigeria earlier this month.