In an exclusive interview with Aljazeera’s correspondent in the Liberian capital Monrovia, Charles Taylor said the US had indirectly aided the rebels now besieging the battle-scarred city.

“The US financially supported Guinea, which in return has backed the rebels,” he said. Taylor also blamed the US for contributing to the collapse of Liberia’s economy.

“The US wanted the UN Security Council to ban weapons in Liberia and impose economic sanctions on its exports,” he said. “It destroyed Liberia’s economy.” 

Taylor’s hard-hitting comments came as rebel fighters edged forward into Monrovia and humanitarian conditions in the city grew more desperate. Aid workers are warning of outbreaks of diseases such as cholera. Residents were cut off from their main food supplies when rebels seized the port area.

Aid workers have urged the international community to intervene. But although the US is sending warships to the region, no US or West African peacekeeping force appears ready to deploy quickly.

Rebels push into capital

Taylor reiterated on Saturday that he would step down to avoid further bloodshed in his war-ravaged country – but only after peacekeepers arrived to restore order.

Young guns: Both sides in the
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Meanwhile, battles continue to rage at strategic sites around the capital. Reuters news agency quoted military sources as saying rebels of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) had advanced on Saturday on a key road through populated suburbs.

The advance came despite promises of a unilateral ceasefire by LURD, which is believed to have links to the regime in neighbouring Guinea.
 
South of Monrovia, another rebel group known as Model launched fresh attacks on Saturday. Residents in Liberia's second port of Buchanan also reported fighting about 30 km from the town. Rebels now control about two thirds of the country.

The US is sending warships to sit off Liberia's coast but it is reluctant to get deeply involved while its forces are busy in Iraq and Afghanistan. A White House spokesman said on Saturday the US would support a West African peacekeeping force in Liberia but gave no further details.

Taylor is wanted in neighbouring Sierra Leone on war crimes charges. He has accepted an asylum offer from Nigeria.

Africa’s oldest republic, Liberia was founded as an independent state for freed American slaves in 1847 but for the past 14 years has often been ravaged by fighting.