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Rebel spokesman on Focus on Africa
"I can assure the Liberian people we are not there to harm any civilian"
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Thursday, 23 November, 2000, 21:56 GMT
Liberian rebels in the president's heartland
President Charles Taylor
The rebels say President Taylor is a "menace"
The Liberian Government says it has beaten back rebels who attacked in eastern Nimba County on Monday, but a man claiming to be a rebel spokesman says they control a large area of the north of the county.

Defence ministry sources said the rebels had crossed from Ivory Coast on Monday night.

The man who telephoned the BBC claiming to be a spokesman for the rebels, Johannes Zogbay Vlahn, said the rebels had not received support from any government.

Earlier this year there were a number of fierce battles after rebel incursions into northern Lofa County - Liberia accused Guinea of supporting those dissidents.

No outside support

Mr Vlahn told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme that the rebels had been grouping in jungle in Nimba County while the attacks were taking place in Lofa County, and they had not crossed any border.

He said the fighters had purchased their arms on the black market.

Troop carrier
Military reinforcements have been sent to Nimba
Mr Vlahn said the group numbered more than 3,000 fighters who were predominantly members of the Gio and Mano ethnic groups - the groups from which President Taylor drew the bulk of his support when he launched his own armed rebellion in 1989.

He said the group's objective was to remove President Charles Taylor from power because he had terrorised and killed Liberians for more than 10 years and was a menace to the sub-region.

Regional power shift

Analysts say the rebels are likely to be supporters of a former ally of Mr Taylor's during the first year of his rebellion, Jackson Doe, who was killed in mysterious circumstances in 1990.

Ulimo fighter
Several militias fought in Liberia's seven-year civil war
Although Mr Vlahn denied support from Ivory Coast, the change of government there is likely to alter the balance of forces in the sub-region.

The recently removed Ivorian military leader, General Robert Guei, was close to Mr Taylor's administration and his feared presidential guard included Liberian fighters.

Mr Taylor visited Ivory Coast's new President, Laurent Gbagbo, shortly after he took office but no details were given of the substance of their talks.

Mr Taylor denied General Guei had sought asylum in Liberia.

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See also:

11 Oct 00 | Africa
US citizens told to leave Liberia
11 Oct 00 | Africa
Liberian rebels beaten back
10 Oct 00 | Africa
Civilians flee Liberian rebels
26 Jul 00 | Africa
Thousands flee Liberian fighting
13 Jul 00 | Africa
New rebel group active in Liberia
13 Jun 00 | Africa
EU suspends Liberia aid
14 Jun 00 | Africa
Liberia: Where rebels roam free
27 Jul 99 | Africa
Taylor: 'New era for Liberia'
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