Liberia's president vows to stay

Liberian President Charles Taylor said on Wednesday he would not flee the capital Monrovia and vowed to fight armed opposition until the end, after new clashes broke out in the very heart of the city.

    Preparing to leave, but precious
    few safe places in Liberia today

    In a radio address to the nation, Taylor said: "There have been rumours that I have left the city. Fellow citizens, I have said to you that my life is no more important than yours, I am right here ... This blatant act of terror will be fought all the way."

    Fighters from an armed group called Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) moved into the city late on Tuesday, as a truce agreed last week crumbled after several days of renewed skirmishes.

    Heavy shelling echoed through the capital's suburbs as opposition forces pushed their way towards the city centre for the second time in three weeks.
    Frightened civilians said LURD fighters had crossed a key bridge just 10 km from the heart of Monrovia, where 300 people died in fighting earlier this month, though reports of opposition forces crossing the St Paul's River bridge cannot be independently verified.
    End of truce

    The new offensive has shattered hopes of a peaceful end to West Africa's bloodiest war and raised the spectre of a brutal last-ditch battle on the streets of the coastal capital.
    Each side has accused the other of repeated truce violations and they disagree on what the ceasefire deal actually means.
    In Washington, State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, said the United States "condemns all violations of the ceasefire and calls on all combatants to stop fighting immediately".
    He said the United States was prepared to participate in a Joint Verification Team monitoring the ceasefire, but could not do so if the truce was not respected. 

    Government forces held on to
    St Paul's bridge last week, but it
    may have fallen to LURD today

    Under last week's ceasefire deal, LURD, Taylor's supporters and opposition politicians were to come up with an overall agreement in 30 days and discuss forming a transition government without the president.
    Opposition to Taylor

    LURD says that means he must step down soon, but Taylor has said he will not leave before the end of his elected mandate in January and will contest future elections if he wants to.
    The armed opposition group includes many of Taylor's enemies from the earlier war, a vicious struggle that exacerbated tribal divisions. 

    Traumatised by 14 years of nearly non-stop violence, Liberians had hoped last week's deal would pave the way for an end to a war that has devastated their country and generated an army of ruthless fighters looting and killing across the region.
    But in the terrified capital, nobody has forgotten that more than a dozen deals were signed and broken during a civil war that left 200,000 dead in the 1990s.

    "Every time there is a little peace, the war just comes back to ruin our lives," said Bill Johnson, one of the thousands on the move.
    Founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century, Liberia has known little but killing and chaos since 1989. Its war has sent savage offshoots into neighbouring Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast.


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