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Friday, 10 May, 2002, 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK
Key Liberian town 'falls to rebels'
Liberia's child fighters have participated in many other wars in the past
Rebel attacks have cost thousands of lives
Rebel forces say they have captured the strategically important town of Gbarnga.

A spokesman for the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd) rebels said government troops did not put up any resistance.

Gbarnga, on the main road to Ivory Coast, served as the headquarters of President Charles Taylor's forces when he was leader of a rebel movement.

The BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layleh said many people in the town had fled, with most now trying to reach Monrovia.

They include in-patients at a Gbarnga hospital who had to be evacuated to Monrovia after the hospital was attacked by looters.

Many were women and children who had been shot.

Sanctions

The army pulled its wounded out of the hospital on Wednesday.

Many of the hospital's own workers abandoned their posts soon afterwards.

Correspondents say the attack on Mr Taylor's base marks a dramatic escalation in hostilities between government forces and the rebels.

Liberian President Charles Taylor
Charles Taylor formerly led the National Patriotic Front rebels

Lurd spokesman William Hanson told the BBC's Focus on Africa that civilian leaders had no reason to flee his forces.

He urged the superintendents of the surrounding Bong and Lofah counties to remain in their offices.

"The only person we are after is Mr Taylor," he said.

Liberia is currently banned from buying weapons by the United Nations, because of the support given by Mr Taylor to rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

The government says this is the reason why the army is unable to defeat the rebels.

"It is not the strength of the enemy that is the problem here. It is some of our powerful enemies that are preventing Liberia from defending herself that is problem," Mr Taylor said in a radio address on Thursday.

Emergency

Lurd rebels based in northern Liberia have waged a sporadic campaign against the Taylor government since mid-2000.

President Taylor declared a state of emergency in February.

Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in north-west Liberia in recent months.

Most of them are living in camps in the Monrovia area.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Lurd's William Hanson on BBC Focus on Africa
"Gbarnga is wholly under the control of Lurd forces"
See also:

07 May 02 | Africa
UN renews Liberia sanctions
04 Apr 02 | Africa
Liberian rebels strike again
21 Mar 02 | Africa
Liberia rebels kill 15
19 Mar 02 | Africa
New refugee emergency in Liberia
12 Mar 02 | Africa
Liberia's forced recruits
05 Mar 02 | Africa
Liberia rebels want peace talks
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