Liberia Declares State of Emergency

© The Associated Press

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) - Liberian troops said they controlled a nearby town Saturday after a reported rebel attack sent thousands fleeing and prompted the president to declare a state of emergency.

Defense Minister Daniel Chea told The Associated Press by mobile phone from Klay Junction, 23 miles outside Monrovia, that the town was under government control. "I am speaking to you from Klay," he said. "The guys are no longer in the town. Don't mind their war propaganda claims that they are there and here."
The government has sent reinforcements to Klay, drawing troops from outlying towns and from the northwestern provincial capital Tubmanburg, 37 miles north of Monrovia. President Charles Taylor declared a state of emergency Friday following reports of fighting between government and rebel forces at Klay Junction. Neither side has so far given details of casualties. Thousands of displaced people gathered in Klay following recent fighting in the northwest. The heavy gunfire sent them fleeing again, officials said.

Government forces tried to block them from entering Monrovia, but some made it into the capital through bush paths, humanitarian workers said Friday. Others gathered at towns around the capital.
Rebels have been waging a low-level insurrection in north Liberia for more than two years. But this was the first time fighting was reported to have come close to the capital, which was ravaged during a 1989-1996 civil war. Humanitarian workers have said at least some of the recent clashes may have involved infighting among government forces. Officials of the Liberian commission on refugees said Saturday that another 2,000 people arrived at Zuana Town, 12 miles west of Monrovia. The town already is home to 3,000 refugees from neighboring Sierra Leone.
"Canoe operators have been busy since yesterday ferrying them across the Po River to enter the Zuana Town camp," said Christiana Wilson, a supervisor for the commission in Zuana. Between 10,000 and 15,000 people gathered at Sass, about 12 miles northwest of Monrovia. Others headed another 12 miles further west toward the town of Sinje, or hid in the bush. Little is known about the rebels, but some are said to have fought against Taylor, a warlord who became president, during the civil war.

The current fighting also has raised regional tensions. Taylor repeated accusations Friday that neighboring Guinea backs the rebels, whom he called "terrorists," and allows them to 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 has complained that international sanctions hindered his ability to respond to the rebels. 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.

AP-NY-02-09-02 0858EST

© Robert W. Kranz  09-02-2002