Liberia?s defense minister, Daniel Chea, told reporters today that government forces are battling rebels near the central Liberian town of Gbanga ? which is about 123 miles north of the capital, Monrovia. He says the fighting is concentrated around Belefana on the Gbarnga-Zorzor highway. Civilians coming into Monrovia from the area suggest, however, that the battle is taking place in Wenzu about ten minutes drive from Gbarnga. Mr. Chea says the government forces are on the offensive.

As the renewed fighting intensifies near Gbarnga, which is also the provincial headquarters of Bong County, a legislative committee on national defense Wednesday invited Defense Minister Chea to brief its members about the fresh military clashes.

In the maintime, the mass exodus of people continued to flee the fighting. Transport vehicles and others leaving Gbarnga and other surrounding villages and towns could be seen leaving with matresses and the other personal effects. Some of those arriving in the capital Monrovia spoke of a very tense environment with the heavy presence of armed government troops and continued gunfire in and around Gbarnga.

Aid agencies in the region have reported begun pulling out.

Defense Minister Daniel Chea told reporters he regrets that the UN Security Council voted to extend an arms embargo against the government. However, he says the government will use every means available to it to defend itself.