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Tuesday, 29 January, 2002, 23:48 GMT
Fighting nears Liberia capital
Mark Doyle

Government troops in Liberia have retaken a village about 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of the capital, Monrovia, which they said fell to dissident forces three days ago.

This is the first clear evidence that fighting has taken place so close to Monrovia.

Sawmill refugee
Thousands of refugees have fled the latest fighting
The first independent eyewitness report from the village of Sawmill came from one of the BBC's reporters in Liberia, Jonathan Paye-Layleh, who travelled there on Tuesday under heavy government military escort.

Government military commanders in the area say Sawmill had briefly fallen to rebels of the group known as Liberians United For Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd).

Sawmill is destroyed and deserted after the fighting.

Unrest spreading

Government military commanders said they had driven out the dissident forces and were now engaging them in the village of Bopolu, in a forested area further north.

Although the retaking of Sawmill is being presented by the government as a success, it would appear to indicate that the rebels did at least temporarily reach to within just a few hours' drive of the capital, Monrovia.

Unrest has been spreading southwards towards the capital for about a year now and although it is not clear who the rebels represent, the consequences of their attacks on ordinary citizens are dramatic.

President of Liberia Charles Taylor
Taylor won elections but now faces security problems

When fighting erupted in Sawmill at the weekend, some 20,000 people were made homeless.

Many of them had fled earlier unrest and have had to move several times.

Although most people fear the rebels, they say government soldiers mistreat them as well.

The new fighting comes as Liberia was just beginning to emerge from a long war which engulfed the whole nation.

The warlord, Charles Taylor, emerged victorious from that conflict and then won presidential elections.

The rebels say he is still a dictator but few Liberians welcome this new unrest, whatever those creating it claim as their motives.

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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