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Last Updated: Friday, 6 June, 2003, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Fighting nears Liberian capital
President Taylor and wife Jewel
President Taylor is having a busy week
Rebels in Liberia have clashed with government troops on the outskirts of the capital, Monrovia, as President Charles Taylor struggles to hold onto power.

Thousands of residents are fleeing into the city from suburbs to the north of Monrovia.

The BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layleh said that government troops retook a strategic bridge from rebels, just four kilometres from the city at about midday, and pushed rebels back to the Brewerville area.

He told the BBC Focus on Africa programme that thousands of displaced people had fled in terror from their camps there after rebels overran them.

The UN is also reported to have relocated from its compound on the outskirts of Monrovia to the city centre.

Ramin Rafirasme, West African spokesman for the World Food Programme said the situation was deeply worrying.

"People are in the street, in the rain. The situation remains very tense in Monrovia," he said.

TAYLOR TIMELINE
1989: Launches rebellion
1991: RUF rebellion starts in Sierra Leone
1995: Peace deal signed
1997: Elected president
1999: Lurd starts rebellion to oust Taylor

The government retains control in just three of Liberia's 15 counties, with two different rebel groups having made advances towards the capital in recent months.

The fighting comes as peace talks should be getting under way in Ghana.

However, one rebel group, Model, is not at the talks and a spokesman for the main rebel group, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd), said they would refuse to talk face-to-face with Mr Taylor's delegation.

The spokesman told the BBC they could not sit down with representatives of an indicted war criminal.

Tribunal questions

On Thursday, President Taylor made a radio broadcast saying a coup attempt was foiled on Wednesday, while he was in Ghana for the start of peace talks.

UN prosecutors issued a warrant for Mr Taylor's arrest for crimes against humanity while he was at the talks, prompting his return to Monrovia.

Monrovia street
Tense street life in the capital
The United Nations-backed war crimes tribunal, based in neighbouring Sierra Leone, is demanding to know why Ghana did not arrest Mr Taylor while he was in the country.

The indictment accuses President Taylor of crimes against humanity over his alleged backing of rebels in Sierra Leone's brutal 10-year-long civil war which ended in 2002.

But the Organisation of West African States which organised the talks has criticised the timing of the arrest warrant.

The executive secretary, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, said that announcing the charges against Charles Taylor as he was about to open the peace talks had "put a damper on the negotiations".

He said President Taylor was making helpful offers "opening up tremendous opportunities" to end the Liberian conflict.

Liberia's vice president and several other top officials are reported to have been detained.




WATCH AND LISTEN
David Crane, war crime prosecutor, Sierra Leone
"He has been indicted since the 7th of March"



SEE ALSO:
Liberia chaos as leader returns
05 Jun 03  |  Africa
Sierra Leone accused in court
15 Mar 03  |  Africa
Bringing justice to Sierra Leone
17 Jan 02  |  Africa
UN extends Liberian sanctions
06 May 03  |  Business
Country profile: Liberia
27 May 03  |  Country profiles


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