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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 June, 2003, 17:12 GMT 18:12 UK
Profile: Liberia's rebels
When the Liberian Government said it had been attacked by rebels based in neighbouring Guinea in 1999, some observers thought the claims were fictitious.

Sehon Damate Conneh Junior
Lurd's leader presents a respectable image
They thought President Charles Taylor could be inventing the attacks in order to get a United Nations arms ban lifted.

But now that the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd) are at the gates of the capital, Monrovia, there is little doubt that they do, indeed, exist.

And it is clear that history is repeating itself, for many Lurd fighters and leaders are former enemies of Mr Taylor from the 1990s civil war, which his 1997 election was supposed to have brought to an end.

Lurd

Their besuited leader, Sehon Damate Conneh Junior, speaks to journalists from a classy hotel in the Italian capital, Rome, while his representatives went to the Ghanaian capital, Accra, for peace talks attending by a host of African heads of state.

But little is known about the group or their aims, beyond the removal from power of Mr Taylor.

"The only means for Liberians to recover their dignity and peace is to chase out Taylor, and for that there is no other ways and means than force," Mr Conneh told the French news agency, AFP, last year.

Liberians flee with whatever they can carry
countless Liberians have fled fighting in the past two decades
Lurd have adopted a constitution which proclaims the usual lofty ideals: "Peace, reconciliation and national consciousness among Liberians; to ensure respect for human rights, justice, freedom and equality regardless of tribes, religion, or social status."

But most of the world's brutal dictators have usually paid lip service to such goals.

Lurd is dominated by members of the Mandingo ethnic group, who also formed most of the Ulimo-K faction during the 1990s.

Mr Taylor was a bitter enemy of Ulimo-K and never reconciled with his former foes.

Lurd's vice-president is Chayee Doe, younger brother of former President Samuel Doe, who was tortured to death in 1990, by a splinter group of Mr Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia.

Model

Earlier this year, another rebel group emerged in the south-eastern timber-producing areas, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (Model).

Charles Taylor
Taylor has acquired a lot of enemies
Model fighters are mostly ethnic Krahns - again a flashback to the earlier civil war and the Ulimo-J faction.

The government says that Model is just another wing of Lurd but the two rebel groups maintain they are entirely separate.

Journalist James Brabazon travelled with Lurd forces last year, when they reached the outskirts of Monrovia.

"They might be an unorthodox lot but they can display a surprising degree of organisation and discipline," he said.

"Sartorially, the Lurd are a bizarre mixture of partly uniformed irregular soldiers and, LA gangster chic," he says.

Their field commanders had names such as Dragon Master, Bush Dog, Jungle Root and Nasty Duke.

But Deddeh Sumo, 45, was less impressed with their discipline after encountering them in the hotly contested Lofa country.

"The rebels set buildings on fire and warned that if young girls did not follow them and become their cooks, they would be killed," she said.

"Some of us were safe only because they were not after old ladies."

During the 1990s, Monrovia witnessed scenes of terrible ethnic brutality when the fighting reached the capital.

Foreigners have fled the city and the one million residents, with their numbers swelled by those who have fled earlier fighting in the countryside, can only hope that similar scenes are not repeated if the rebel forces again enter Monrovia.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Paul Welsh
"Immediate safety will be on a French ship lying just off the Liberian coastline"



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