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Liberian Rebels Set Up Barricades After Attack on Leader's Motorcade

Liberian rebel forces have taken up positions on the outskirts of the capital, Monrovia, after their leader's motorcade was involved in a gunfight that left at least three people dead.

As rebel leader Sekouh Conneh drove into Monrovia, his motorcade was involved in a fatal exchange of gunfire. Witnesses say government loyalists sparked the violence by throwing rocks at the motorcade.

Following Wednesday's shooting, Mr. Conneh's forces, the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Development, took up positions around the capital. Armed LURD rebels have set up barricades on the main road heading north out of Monrovia.

According to LURD executive and founding father George Dweh, the violence was an ambush, and direct attack on the life of their leader. Mr. Dweh, speaking by telephone to VOA, called for LURD forces to be allowed to join U.N. peacekeeping troops to better secure the capital.

"We believe, in order for us to have peace, or for our full security to come to the city of Monrovia, we would like to recommend 250 persons or forces, our men, to work with UNIMIL or ECOMIL on the ground," he said.

From the government side, questions have been raised over what Mr. Conneh was doing coming into Monrovia with a contingent of heavily armed troops for a meeting with interim President Moses Blah.

This was the worst violence to have erupted in the capital, since former President Charles Taylor left the country for exile in August.

It was upon Mr. Taylor's departure that the rebels signed an agreement to withdraw from their positions in the capital and make way for what was described as a zone of confidence, patrolled by peacekeeping soldiers.

But Mr. Dweh denied that LURD's new positions and barricades outside Monrovia contravened that agreement.

Meanwhile, 3,500 west African peacekeeping forces were given their U.N. blue berets. A 15,000-member international peacekeeping force has been sanctioned for Liberia by the United Nations Security Council, similar to the force that is credited with restoring stability in neighboring Sierra Leone.