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Liberian Rebels Order Halt To Monrovia Offensive
VOA News
22 Jul 2003, 15:51 UTC

The Liberian rebels say they have ordered forces battling for control of the capital, Monrovia, to stop fighting.

A top rebel negotiator attending peace talks in Ghana told reporters Tuesday that fighters with LURD, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, have been instructed to halt their four-day offensive.

Liberia's defense minister says at least 600 civilians have been killed in the last few days in fighting between government troops and rebels trying to oust President Charles Taylor.

Defense Minister Daniel Chea's comment came Tuesday as West African military chiefs began meeting in Senegal to discuss deploying international peacekeepers to Liberia.

In Washington, Liberia's charge d'affaires to the United States, Aaron Kollie, described the situation in Liberia as "very desperate." In a television interview with CNN Tuesday, Mr. Kollie urged the United States to lend what he called a "human face" to the situation by sending troops to help restore peace in the country, which was founded by freed American slaves.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has pledged to send an initial contingent of 1,500 peacekeepers, with a larger force to follow. The United States has called on ECOWAS to deploy the peacekeepers soon. A U.S. amphibious assault group of three ships and 4,500 Marines and sailors from the Horn of Africa is moving closer to Liberia in the event President Bush decides to deploy troops. The White House Tuesday strongly condemned the latest violence in Monrovia, but said the president still has not decided whether U.S. troops will take part in peacekeeping efforts.

Fierce fighting raged for a fourth day on the northern side of the capital Tuesday. Rebels tried again to take control of two bridges leading from the port into the city center, but government soldiers held them off.

On Monday, scores of people were killed during heavy fighting in Monrovia, as rebels fired dozens of mortar shells during an assault on the city. At least one shell hit the U.S. embassy compound.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters.

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