Liberian Rebels Launch New Attacks

© The Associated Press

KAKATA, Liberia (AP)  -- Gunbattles between rebels and government troops flared anew near Liberia's capital, forcing at least 15,000 civilians to flee, military officials said Wednesday.

Army commander Francis Dolo said his troops repelled rebels who had attacked the towns of Heindi and Bong Mines, both about 20 miles northeast of Monrovia, on Tuesday. The fighting was the closest to the capital since clashes broke out two weeks ago at Klay Junction, some 23 miles north of the city.
Winston Kelemeh, a 44-year-old superintendent at a Bong Mines rubber plantation, said he set off on foot for Heindi early Tuesday but retreated when he heard gunfire. Arriving back in Bong Mines, he said he briefly witnessed a gunbattle in the town center before fleeing to Kakata, 11 miles away.

On Wednesday, hundreds of displaced gathered at Kakata, frantically trying to hitch rides to flee the fighting. "Right now nobody can be sure of safety anywhere," said Pewe Johnson, who was waiting in Kakata with his family of five for transport out of town. Johnson, however, didn't have the money. Taxi drivers had quickly hiked fares, in some cases charging $25 for a journey that normally costs $3. No casualties were reported, but Joseph Holder of the Liberian Red Cross said one elderly man collapsed and died as he tried to reach Kakata. Justina Harris, one of the displaced, said a policeman was killed in Heindi. Rebels have been waging a low-level civil war in the north of Liberia, near the border of Guinea, since 1999.

Little is known about the insurgents, but they are said to include some of those who fought against warlord-turned-President Charles Taylor during a 1989-96 civil war. At least some attacks have also been carried out by undisciplined and illequipped government forces, humanitarian workers and diplomats say.

AP-NY-Wed Feb 20, 2:21 PM ET

© Robert W. Kranz  09-02-2002