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Liberian foes trade accusations, massacre report
( 2003-08-25 08:50) (Agencies)

Liberia's government and rebels traded charges on Sunday of violating a peace deal, and state radio accused rebels of committing a massacre, quoting one source as saying about 1,000 people had died.

The reports of the massacre in Nimba County, far from the capital Monrovia, could not be immediately confirmed. Nor was it clear when it might have occurred.

"There has been a massacre in Bahn, Nimba County, by Model rebels," the Liberia Broadcasting System reported, referring to the smaller of the West African nation's two rebel factions. It quoted a VHF radio operator saying around 1,000 people had died.

Security sources in Monrovia said they had reports of many people killed during fighting in the area, but said fighting there involved the other larger rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).

Bahn is a some 150 miles northeast of Monrovia.

Rebel officials could not be reached for immediate comment.

Government ministers reached by Reuters said they had not heard the reports of the massacre, which are likely to put added strain on a peace agreement signed last week in Ghana.

Government forces and LURD fighters accused each other of keeping up attacks on each others' positions at another location some 31 miles west of Bahn, in violation of the accord.

The accord signed by both sides last Monday was designed to end 14 years of bloodshed, but although violence around Monrovia has been reduced, clashes have continued elsewhere.

Thousands of civilians fled toward Monrovia on Saturday after gun and mortar fire near the rebel-held second city of Buchanan, and government forces reported more clashes on Sunday.


"They came to attack us...this morning....They are trying to push me from here, but we're not going to move," said General Kay Friday, 23, government commander in the Compound Number One area, some 50 miles from Monrovia.

Friday said the attackers, numbering 15 to 30, wore the red T-shirts of the Model rebel faction which holds Buchanan.

As Friday spoke, a fellow soldier sitting behind him smoked a marijuana cigarette and blew smoke into the mouth of a tiny black-and-tan puppy. Shortly afterwards a gun shot rang out and the soldiers said they had killed another dog to eat it.

Villages by the potholed road from Monrovia to Compound Number One stand abandoned.

By Sunday, the flow of refugees along the road had dried up, but the calm was shattered when five U.S. helicopters roared past toward the port city of Buchanan.

Colonel Theophilus Tawiah of the West African peace force ECOMIL said the helicopters were carrying out reconnaissance in preparation for peacekeepers to move into the area.

Washington has three warships sitting off Liberia, founded in the 19th century by freed slaves from America. Only some 200 of the 2,300 U.S. soldiers have gone ashore to help ECOMIL, but U.S. helicopters and warplanes have provided backing.

Lieutenant Colonel Tom Collins, spokesman for the U.S. force, said a quick reaction force of around 150 Marines had moved from Monrovia's airport back on board the USS Iwo Jima in order to be able to deploy faster to different areas of Liberia.

President Bush says U.S. troops will leave by October 1.


Last week's peace deal cleared the way for the creation of an interim government to be chaired by Gyude Bryant, a low-profile businessman seen as a consensus builder.

Caretaker President Moses Blah, due to hand over to Bryant in October, succeeded former President Charles Taylor, who quit under international pressure earlier this month.

Since Taylor launched a rebellion in 1989 to win power, Liberia has seen little but violence and has been the epicenter of a regional cycle of bloodshed in which 250,000 people have been killed. Taylor is now in exile in Nigeria.

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