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Fresh Fighting Reported in Liberia as Rebels Advance Toward Monrovia - 2003-08-26

Military and humanitarian aid sources say rebels in Liberia's interior are pushing toward the capital, Monrovia, driving thousands of civilians out of their homes. The offensive is undermining the peace accord the leading rebel group signed with the government last week.

Thousands of destitute civilians are on the move in the Liberian interior. According to aid workers, news of renewed fighting is encouraging people to leave refugee camps and head for the relative safety of Monrovia.

The government is accusing rebels of being responsible for the latest turmoil. Rebel leader Sekouh Conneh was unavailable immediately for comment.

The reports point to the difficulties in restoring peace in Liberia. After 14 years of fighting, national infrastructure has been destroyed, making communications and exercising control difficult. Many of the young fighters have known nothing other than warfare.

Local radio has reported a civilian massacre by rebels at Bahn, in Nimba County. Other reports say rebels or government fighters are on a looting spree ahead of the anticipated arrival of peacekeepers. These areas have long been considered insecure, restricting travel by outsiders and making confirmation of such reports difficult.

Caretaker president, Moses Blah, has called for a speedy deployment of west African peacekeepers into the lawless interior to end the fighting. Peacekeeping forces began arriving at the beginning of the month but have yet to deploy beyond the capital.

There are currently 1,500 peacekeeping troops in Liberia. According to leaders of the force, deployment will not be extended outside the capital until reinforcement troops arrive from Ghana, Mali and Senegal.

Ultimately an international United Nations-led peacekeeping operation will be put in place in Liberia, much like the one that has been credited with restoring peace to neighboring Sierra Leone.

Although peacekeepers may be keeping Monrovia free from fighting, disease is taking hold in the crowded capital. Aid workers are warning of a serious cholera problem. Thousands of displaced civilians remain in the capital where the cleanest drinking water is rainwater.