Rebel forces in Liberia have launched new attacks near Monrovia, creating panic and bringing the capital to a virtual standstill.

Liberia's defense minister, Daniel Chea, confirmed that rebels from the group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, attacked the town of Arlington, about 25 kilometers from Monrovia.

Residents of the capital scurried for shelter, with parents rushing to take their children out of school. Storekeepers closed their shops and market vendors abandoned their stalls.

Authorities tried to stop the panic. Liberian President Charles Taylor urged clam, saying security forces are patrolling Monrovia and will not allow any rebels near the capital. Defense Minister Chea ordered police cars to switch off their flashing lights to ease the tension.

The rebels, who are based in the north of Liberia, launched some of their boldest attacks in their three-year campaign six days ago.

Some of the fiercest fighting has been near Gbarnga, about 170 kilometers from Monrovia, which was President Taylor's base when he led a rebellion against a former government in the 1990s.

During the weekend, the rebels also attacked Klay, about 45 kilometers from Monrovia.

United Nations officials estimate that at least 40,000 people have been displaced by recent fighting between the Liberian government and rebel forces. It says the figure could increase if the fighting continues.

Liberia remains under U.N. sanctions, including an arms embargo, for its support of rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone. President Taylor recently appealed for an end to the sanctions, pointing out that the war in over in Sierra Leone.

But the United Nations refused. Mr. Taylor says the sanctions have prevented his army from defending Liberians against the rebel attacks.