Liberia Declares State of Emergency

By JONATHAN PAYE-LAYLEH
© The Associated Press

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) - President Charles Taylor declared a state of emergency Friday following reports of fighting between government and rebel forces on the outskirts of the capital. Officials said thousands of civilians had fled the area.

Taylor did not provide details of the latest clashes in a radio address to the nation, but Information Minister Reginald Goodridge said government forces repelled a rebel attack Thursday on Klay Junction, a town about 25 miles north of Monrovia.
`As president and commander in chief of the armed forces of Liberia, it is my duty to restore peace and security to the people of this country,' Taylor said.
Rebels have been waging a low-level insurrection in northern Liberia for more than two years, but it was the first time fighting was reported to have neared the capital, which was ravaged in a 1989-1996 civil war.
There were no immediate reports of further clashes Friday.

`Klay is now in the hands of government forces, although this is guerrilla warfare, and one cannot be so certain,' Goodridge said. Journalists have been barred from parts of the country where there is fighting, and Goodridge's claims could not immediately be verified.
Humanitarian organizations have said that in at least some of the recent clashes, government forces may have been fighting among themselves. U.N. officials in Monrovia confirmed there had been shooting Thursday around Klay but did not have any details, U.N. World Food Program spokesman Ramin Rafirasme said in Abidjan, in neighboring Ivory Coast.

The heavy gunfire sent thousands of displaced people who had gathered in Klay following recent fighting in the northwest fleeing again, officials said. Between 10,000 and 15,000 people gathered at Sass, a town 12 miles northwest of Monrovia, according to the deputy coordinator of the Liberian refugee commission, Saa Nyumah. Others were headed farther west toward the town of Sinje or were hiding in the bush, he said Friday. Government forces were trying to block fleeing civilians from entering Monrovia, but some were getting through on bush paths, humanitarian workers said on condition of anonymity.
About 200 children were separated from their parents in the panic, but there were no immediate reports of civilian casualties, Nyumah said. Much of the shooting appeared to have been in the air, he said.
Little is known about the rebels, but they are said to include some of those who fought against Taylor, a warlord who became president, during the civil war.
The current fighting has raised tensions among Liberia and its neighbors. On Friday, Taylor repeated accusations that neighboring Guinea backs the rebels - whom he termed ``terrorists'' - and lets them maintain bases on its territory. Guinea, in turn, has accused Liberia of supporting its own insurgents as well as rebels from neighboring Sierra Leone who have attacked Guinean villages.
Taylor complained that international sanctions were hindering his ability to respond to the rebell threat.
Last year, the United Nations punished Liberia for its support of Sierra Leone's brutal rebels by maintaining an arms embargo and imposing sanctions on its diamond sales and a travel ban on its leaders.

`While the reign of terror goes on unabated, the international community remains mute to the plight of the Liberian people,' Taylor said.

AP-NY-02-08-02 1513EST


© Robert W. Kranz  09-02-2002