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LIBERIA: LURD rebels capture key northern town

MONROVIA, 9 September 2003 (IRIN) - Rebels of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) group on Tuesday morning captured the provincial town of Kakata in Margibi County, 45 km north of the capital, Monrovia, before West African peacekeepers could be deployed in the town.

The rebel advance cut-off at least 80,000 civilians who were displaced last week by fighting close to their four camps in the central Liberian town of Totota, 69 km further north, relief workers in Monrovia told IRIN.

The civilians had moved south to Salala, which lies between Kakata and Totota. Relief workers who had planned to go on an assessment of the temporary camps in Salala on Tuesday put off their trip because of reports of fighting in Kakata.

"Some 80,000 civilians are effectively caught up between rebels and government fighters. We have no information right now, as to what is happening in their camps," a relief worker told IRIN on Tuesday afternoon.

Kakata is a major link between Monrovia, the central Bong County and northern Nimba County. It lies on the road to neighbouring Ivory Coast and Guinea.

The LURD entered the town early Tuesday morning before 600 peacekeepers from Guinea-Bissau could be deployed in the area, eye witnesses said. Government troops who had been guarding the key government town retreated, they said.

However the peacekeepers [known as the ECOMIL force] went ahead to set up a base at the Booker Washington Institute on the western outskirts of Kakata.

Ecomil chief of staff, Colonel Theophilus Tawiah, told reporters in Monrovia: "We have reports of some fighting in Kakata. The troops are on the ground there. ECOMIL is not involved in the fighting."

Thousands of civilians took to the road, walking towards Monrovia as the rebels seized the town. Some of the fleeing civilians who arrived at the eastern suburbs of Monrovia on Tuesday afternoon said they heard sounds of heavy shelling and light artillery fire from the direction of Kakata.

"This is complete nonsense we find ourselves in, in this country," one of the fleeing civilians, Johnny Gaye, told IRIN in Monrovia.

LURD Secretary General, Joe Gbala, blamed fighters loyal to former Liberian president Charles Taylor now exile in Nigeria for being responsible for the latest fighting.

"Our forces received strict orders from our Chairman, Sekou Damate Conneh to remain disengaged but Taylor's remnant soldiers are provoking our forces. We will not relent in pursuing them until they stop attacking us," Gbala told IRIN.

A LURD commander told IRIN in Monrovia that their forces, under the command of one Sekou Kamara, would remain in Kakata until ECOMIL deployed fully there.

"This is necessary to reduce the capacity of Taylor's fighters from attacking our positions again," the commander dressed in military fatigues said.

On Monday fighting between government fighters and LURD rebels in the town of Todee, 40 northwest of Monrovia near the highway to Kakata delayed plans by ECOMIL to deploy the Guinea-Bissau troops to Kakata and Totota.

The LURD are fighting and seizing territory despite the 18 August Peace Agreement signed by all Liberian warring parties in the Ghanaian capital, Accra. The agreement required all combatants to remain in their positions, avoid hostilities and allow humanitarian access to civilians.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict

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