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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 November, 2004, 11:17 GMT
Taylor's men 'not behind riots'
UN troops with detained Liberians
Liberia hosts the world's largest peacekeeping operation
A member of former president Charles Taylor's government has denied involvement in riots in Liberia's capital which left 16 dead.

"There is absolutely no one in the former government who is anti-peace," said Defence Minister Daniel Chea, who also served under Mr Taylor.

The UN blames former combatants of being behind the violence which has threatened the fragile peace process.

The violence is the worst seen in Monrovia since Mr Taylor was exiled.

Some 250 people were detained in Monrovia on Monday following the running battles last Thursday, which left more than 200 people in hospital.

After days of tension with UN helicopters flying over the city, the BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layle says the capital in now calm.

The crisis erupted just before the disarmament deadline on Sunday, in which some 95,000 fighters have handed over weapons in the UN programme.

'Fool hardy'

UN envoy Jacques Klein said there were several flash points which were used by former combatants, especially those linked to Mr Taylor, to try to destabilise the country.

Car burning during riots
The violence is a reminder of how volatile Liberia remains
It was sparked, Mr Klein says, by competition between vendors for space in a market and further exacerbated by an internal leadership election among former Lurd rebels and then former Taylor fighters, criminals and thugs joined in, he said.

Mr Chea said it would be "foolhardy" for members the former government to derail the peace process.

They were committed to the transitional national government, set to organise elections by October 2005.

He said, given the number of ex-combatants involved in the 14-year civil war, it was likely that some of those may have been involved in the unrest, but it was not sanctioned.

"If that were the case... we would not have made the kind of progress that we have made with regard to disarmament and with regard to the smooth running of the transitional government," Mr Chea told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

Several churches and mosques were attacked during the clashes which began last Thursday, and a curfew was put in place.

Religious and community leaders met on Monday to condemn the violence and agreed to form a 10-member committee to ensure violence does not flare up again.

Problems

Last week, parts of city suburbs were sealed off as gangs fought and looted.

The violence also forced the UN to postpone repatriation of refugees from neighbouring Guinea.

Liberia's interim leader Gyude Bryant - who heads a transitional power-sharing government set up to organise elections - blamed hooligans.

The unrest was one of the most serious outbreaks of violence in Liberia since the full deployment of some 15,000 UN peacekeepers in Liberia as part of a peace deal to end 14 years of civil war.

The chief Liberian peace negotiator for the West African community, Abdusalami Abubuakar, has now arrived in Monrovia to try to bring rival rebel faction leaders back within the peace process.

Fighters from the largest rebel movement known as Lurd are drawn from the mainly-Muslim Mandingo ethnic group.

And they have clashed with fighters which draw their support from Christian communities.

But the BBC's Dan Isaacs says that tensions and mistrust are complex and run very deep.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
How riots have threatened Liberia's peace process



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