Liberian leader Doe is back in saddle, but reins of power not yet firmly in hand

Liberia's President-elect Samuel Doe appears to have regained the upper hand following Tuesday's attempted coup. But the situation remains confused and sporadic fighting continues, according to reports from Monrovia. General Doe claimed in a broadcast Tuesday night that the coup had been crushed, Monrovia's three radio stations had been recaptured, and loyal troops were hunting down rebels.

He said that 10 of the rebels had been killed and 16 arrested, although observers estimate that casualties could be much higher and the city's main hospital had appealed for extra blood donations.

Liberian Army Chief of Staff Henry Durbar said Wednesday that Cuban and Sierra Leonean mercenaries had been used in the coup attempt. Communist-manufactured weapons used by the rebels were also displayed.

He added that the situation was not yet fully under control. Western diplomatic sources said that gunfire could still be heard Wednesday morning in some suburbs.

The government has so far failed to capture the rebel leader, Gen. Thomas Quiwonkpa, and most of his troops are apparently still at large. The absence of a further broadcast by Doe was also seen as evidence that he was not yet fully in control.

Throughout the coup, Doe apparently remained in the executive mansion, scene of some of the fiercest fighting.

Observers fear that if the coup finally fails it could be followed by a period of savage repression and purges both within the Army and within ethnic groups that supported the rebels. There are vivid memories of executions by military firing squads on the beach at Monrovia after Doe seized power in 1980.

Political tension and instability could continue if the three opposition parties maintain their decision to contest in court last month's allegedly rigged election results and refuse to occupy their seats in the Senate and House of Representatives.

Relations between Liberia and the United States are likely to come under further strain. The rebel leader, General Quiwonkpa returned from two years' exile in the US to lead the coup.

Observers point out that even if Washington played no active role in the coup attempt, it must at least have been aware of what was being plotted.

Doe is known to be an ``erratic'' and sometimes ``embarrassing'' ally, and there would have been few regrets in Washington if he had been replaced by Quiwonkpa. -- 30 --

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