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 Wednesday, 8 January, 2003, 12:38 GMT
Liberia rebels fight for diamonds
Liberian troops
The army has been fighting the Lurd rebels since 1999

Government troops and rebels have been clashing in Liberia for control of the diamond and gold producing north-western towns of Wesua and Wieju.

Defence Minister Daniel Chea said fighting spread to the two towns after rebels of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd) were dislodged from nearby Geingba on Saturday and Sunday.

Rebel reinforcements have reportedly been using the abandoned railroad track of an old iron mining company in the area to join the Wesua-Wieje battle.

Government troops, too, have been drawing reinforcements from Geingba and the town of Bopolu, which was once the rebels' stronghold, 100 kilometres from Monrovia.

'High rebel casualties'

Minister Chea told the BBC that the rebels wanted to seize the towns to control the minerals and support their war effort, but, he said, "we are fighting to deny them that luxury".

Defence sources have been economical with the truth when announcing casualty figures in the latest flare-up.

They talk about high rebel casualties, but omit to say that a senior military commander in the Bopolu region known as "General Red Devil" has been admitted at a private clinic in Monrovia after his leg was hit by a rebel rocket.

The latest fighting comes in the wake of the continued detention in Monrovia of two officials of the Christian-Muslim fraternal organisation, the Inter-Religious Council, in connection with the war.

Peace talks

The two men, David Kiazolu and Christopher Toe, were arrested on 28 December for being in possession of e-mails from the rebel movement.

The leadership of the Council says it has officially approached the parliament of the West African regional grouping, Ecowas, for the release of the two.

Liberian refugees
Thousands have been displaced by the fighting

One of the e-mails in question includes a copy of a letter the rebels sent to the Ecowas parliament in which they agree to meet the Liberian Government under the aegis of the parliament and the Inter-Religious Council.

President Charles Taylor's regime is currently under UN sanctions imposed for its perceived support of former rebels in Sierra Leone who waged a war until January 2002.

Mr Taylor has denied arming and training the rebels in return for diamonds.

News, analysis and background from Liberia's conflict and escalating refugee crisis

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14 Sep 02 | Africa
03 Aug 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
07 May 02 | Africa
06 May 01 | Africa
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