The rebel offensive sent weary civilians scurrying for cover and threatened to undermine the truce agreed upon between the warring parties for paving the way for the deployment of international peacekeepers in the troubled country.

Liberia’s chief of staff Benjamin Yeaten said rebels of the Liberians United For Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebels seized the key Klay junction and advanced to Sasstown, 25 km north of the capital.

“We are observing the ceasefire, but the rebels are not observing the ceasefire,” General Yeaten said.

“We are defending. They are carrying on shelling towards Monrovia,” he stressed.

The LURD rebels however denied any intentions of attacking the capital immediately.

But previous rebel attacks on Klay have been followed by swift advances on Monrovia.

Founded by freed American slaves some 150 years ago, Liberia has ceaselessly been raked by civil war since the early nineties.

Power Struggle

Rebels of the LURD and another rebel group known as Model have been fighting government forces since 1999 to oust President Charles Taylor.

The fighting peaked last month when rebels stormed Monrovia. The fighting killed hundreds and also prompted calls by the US for Taylor’s resignation.

Taylor, despite having publicly agreed to step down and take asylum in Nigeria, is still hanging on to office. He insists on the deployment of international peacekeepers before he leaves.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan meanwhile has cautioned that the Liberian crisis would worsen unless the US and West African nations speed up plans to deploy the peacekeepers.