Chaos in Liberia as fighting continues

Chaos has gripped the streets of Monrovia as Liberian government forces clash with rebels who announced a 72-hour deadline for President Charles Taylor to step down.

    Tens of thousands of Liberians are
    fleeing the capital of Monrovia

    According to refugees, the rebel group LURD, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy were advancing under heavy fire and had recaptured the strategic Saint Paul river bridge.

    The violence sent tens of thousands fleeing for their lives, despite the pouring rain.

    Many fear the fighting is a repetition of the 1990s tribal warfare which left bodies scattered in the streets.

    Speaking to the Reuters news agency from Ghana, a senior LURD member gave Taylor an ultimatum to quit.

    "We give them 72 hours", said J Laveli Supuwood.

    "This man cannot continue to blast the country. We mean what we have said," he said, adding LURD would make an "appropriate decision" if Taylor refused to step down.

    Rebels and government officials had been attending peace talks in Ghana. But they have been put on hold since the fighting flared.

    Defence Minister Daniel Chea said government forces were making some progress in pushing back the rebels.

    "Even if someone shoots their way into Monrovia, they will be shaking up a beehive," Chea said, accusing LURD of trying to ruin peace talks in Ghana.

    President Charles Taylor has
    been indicted for war crimes

    The fighting has overshadowed efforts to try and end the nearly 14 years of violence that has killed at least 200,000 in the west African country.

    ‘Destructive force’

    Liberian president Charles Taylor has been accused of inciting violence which spread into neighbouring Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast

    On 4 June, Taylor was indicted by a UN-backed court for war crimes in Sierra Leone.

    He later had his vice-president arrested after a suspected coup plot.

    Sources close to Vice-President Moses Blah say that he had received a call from the US embassy urging Blah to take over while Taylor was in Ghana. The sources say he refused, but was still detained.

    Richard Boucher of the US State Department called Taylor a “destructive force”, blaming him for much of the violence in the West African nation.

    LURD officials claim they are five kilometres outside Monrovia city centre. Top LURD negotiator Kabineh Ja'neh said the rebels had the strength to take the capital, but had held back because of foreign pressure to avoid a bloodbath.

    Meanwhile, peace talks are set to continue on Monday now that another Liberian rebel group has arrived in Ghana.

    MODEL, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia, arrived on Sunday to take part in talks.

    LURD chief negotiator:
    Kabineh Ja'neh

    Ghana’s Foreign Minister Addo Akufo-Addo said he would be meeting with six-member delegation Sunday night before the talks begin the following day.

    Meanwhile a search for four Europeans - two Swiss, a Briton, and another European of unknown nationality - missing in Liberia is underway.

    The European Union has ordered all its citizens in Liberia to prepare for a possible evacuation.


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