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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 26 March, 2003, 07:09 GMT
Rebels close in on Monrovia
Liberian refugees
Thousands have fled the latest fighting
Reports from Liberia say rebels advanced to within 10 kilometres (seven miles) of the capital, Monrovia, this week.

A BBC correspondent in the city, Jonathan Paye-Layleh, said the government had reported a rebel attack on the town of Ricks Institute, killing several people, but troops had since regained control of the area.

News of the advance caused some panic in the capital and security in the capital was increased.

Heavy fighting has continued between government forces and the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd) rebels for control of the town of Gbarnga, 160 km (100 miles) north of the capital.

After a fierce battle, government reinforcements backed by artillery took control of the town's central police station but the situation in the town is still unclear.

Our correspondent says that the fact that the Lurd managed to hold such an important town for at least three days, after sending in a 300-strong force on Friday, shows they are a force to be reckoned with.

The Lurd have been trying to overthrow the government of President Charles Taylor since 1999.

Thousands homeless

Our correspondent says up to 30,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in Gbarnga with most of them arriving by foot at camps in the highway town of Totota, some 40 km to the south-east.

Scores of people are believed to have died in the fighting.

Ricks Institute is also sheltering thousands of people displaced by the civil war.

The government said it had regained control there but several people had been killed.

Reuters news agency reported seeing pick-up trucks ferrying elite presidential soldiers speeding out of Monrovia along with lorry loads of soldiers as reports came in of the attack on Ricks Institute and another locality, Klay, 35 km (22 miles) from the capital.

One woman who had arrived with her sons from the direction of Ricks Institute said people had fled from the area after hearing "heavy shooting sounds".


SEE ALSO:
Rebel 'massacres' in Liberia
07 Feb 03 |  Africa
Timeline: Liberia
04 Mar 03 |  Country profiles



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