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Tuesday, 4 February, 2003, 16:30 GMT
Liberian rebels 'approach capital'
Liberian troops
The army has been fighting the Lurd rebels since 1999

There are reports that rebels in Liberia have taken two key towns north of the capital, Monrovia.

Defence Minister Daniel Chea confirmed rebels recaptured the iron-ore rich town of Bopolu on Monday, situated approximately 100 kilometres north-west of the capital.

The Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd) have been trying to overthrow the government of President Charles Taylor since 1999.

Panic has gripped Monrovia, following news of the advances.

In an interview on the Tubmanburg highway, Mr Chea told the BBC that government forces are being amassed to advance on the embattled town.

Several vehicles, including jeeps loaded with armed men, some carrying calibre machine guns, were seen heading towards the area.

When asked whether the rebels' quick advance on the town confirms that other towns such as Sawmill, situated beyond Tubmanburg, have fallen to the rebels, Mr Chea replied "not necessarily".

'Guerrilla warfare'

"This is guerrilla warfare where enemy forces bypass towns to attack others."

Henry's Town and Geingpa situated beyond rebel positions are controlled by government troops, Mr Chea added.

A family rests after fleeing Tubmanburg on Tuesday
People have been fleeing the fighting

He said casualty figures in the latest round of fighting will be hard to determine until loyalist forces are able to bring the situation under control.

People on the highway heard that some rebels were moving towards Arthington, the hometown of Mr Taylor, located 25 kilometres north-west of Monrovia.

Mr Chea has called for calm.

Last time the rebels were in Tubmanburg, it took the government six months to push them out.

Panic has gripped residents in the north-western Brewerville district of Monrovia.


Gunfire bellowed across the township from the Tubmanburg highway causing internally displaced Liberians and Sierra Leonean refugees to flee.

Schools were shut down within minutes.

I saw a large number of nervous Brewerville people leaving the old American-Liberian township with bundles of personal effects, including foam mattresses and cooking utensils.
Liberian President Charles Taylor
Mr Taylor is not allowed to travel abroad

There was speculation that the sounds came from clashes between government forces and rebels in nearby "Combat Camp".

But the defence minister said the fighting had not extended beyond Tubmanburg and there was no cause for panic in the refugee camps and in the area surrounding Brewerville.

Mr Chea said he was meeting officials of the Liberian Refugee Commission to give them specific instructions regarding the safety of refugees and displaced Liberians.

On the streets of Monrovia, people have their own interpretations of what has unfolded in the north-west in recent days.

Some people believe there really has been a rebel advance, while others say the attacks are stage-managed in order to create fears and insecurity among exiled opposition politicians returning home to take on Mr Taylor in the 14 October election.

The BBC's David Bamford
"Reports of confusion and general panic in the Liberian capital"
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
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