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Monday, 28 January, 2002, 20:41 GMT
Army blocks refugees outside Monrovia
Refugees
The refugees are said to be in a "terrible" condition
The Liberian army has erected barricades outside the capital, Monrovia, to prevent thousands of refugees from entering the city.

Up to 20,000 people have fled the towns of Sawmill and Tubmanberg in recent days after renewed fighting.


Liberian rebels claim to have captured two northern towns from government forces and surrounded a third, but officials have denied this.

The BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layleh says the refugees are in a "terrible condition".

Some of the refugees originally fled their homes for the area around Sawmill last year, before leaving their camps over the weekend.

Conflicting claims

A spokesman for Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd) rebels, Charles Bennie based in the Netherlands, said that his forces had captured Sawmill and surrounded Tubmanberg, 60 kilometres (37 miles) from Monrovia.

Mr Bennie appealed to civilians to leave the town to avoid unnecessary casualties.

Sawmill refugee
This is the second flight for many Sawmill refugees

An army officer with the refugees, Alfred Anderson, said he had visited Tubmanberg early on Monday, and there were no signs of rebel activity in the area.

Liberia's deputy police director, Saah Gporlie, visited Sawmill in the afternoon and said there were no rebels there, either.

Panicked

The refugees told our correspondent that the rebels had started the fighting and they accused government soldiers of working with them.

One man said that his brother had been shot dead by government troops.

Sawmill refugee
This is the second flight for many Sawmill refugees

The refugees first went to Tubmanberg but when they arrived, saying that there was fighting in Sawmill, many local residents decided to join them in seeking safety in Monrovia.

But they were met 30km from the capital by troops wielding guns and whips.

For weeks the refugees in camps around the village of Sawmill have been saying they did not feel safe because of outbreaks of shooting in the forests around them.

But the government of Liberia, reluctant to see a wave of panicking people enter the capital, said they could not leave the Sawmill camps.

On Saturday night, according to aid workers, there was more shooting near Sawmill and thousands of people simply fled southwards with or without permission from the government.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Charles Bennie, Lurd
"Our forces have completely surrounded Tubmanberg"
See also:

11 Dec 01 | Africa
Thousands flee Liberia fighting
30 Oct 01 | Africa
Liberia denies busting sanctions
04 May 01 | Africa
UN imposes sanctions on Liberia
15 May 00 | Africa
Diamonds: A rebel's best friend
12 Feb 01 | Africa
Timeline: Liberia
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Liberia
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