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Peacekeepers Caught Up in Renewed War in Liberia

WEST AFRICA

By Cindy ShinerSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / October 27, 1992



MONROVIA, LIBERIA

WEST African peacekeeping forces and Liberian soldiers are fighting to repel a rebel attack on this damaged capital as tens of thousands of war-weary refugees flood the city's relief centers and hospitals.

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Thundering explosions have rocked the city as Nigerian Alpha jets bomb the swamps in the northern section to drive out soldiers of rebel leader Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). The capital's airport was closed yesterday because of heavy fighting, and there were reports of several casualties.

The NPFL offensive marks the worst fighting in two years, returning the divided nation to war and aggravating the region's worst security crisis.

More than 150,000 refugees have fled to central Monrovia since the fighting began, carrying children and possessions in wheelbarrows and on their backs. Water supplies have been cut off. A curfew is in effect between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Fighting was also reported in Gbarnga, site of Mr. Taylor's headquarters, and the rebel-held port of Buchanan.

The peacekeeping forces, sent to Liberia two years ago by the 16-nation Economic Community of West African States to impose a cease-fire, now find themselves drawn into a full-scale military conflict. ECOWAS leaders met in Cotonou, Benin, last week and called for a cease-fire by midnight last Wednesday: Taylor has ignored this.

The West Africans are to meet again Friday in Abuja, Nigeria, to discuss a possible UN role in resolving the conflict. They also have threatened a land, sea, and air embargo on Liberia if the fighting does not stop by Nov. 6.

Liberia's crisis began in late 1989, when Taylor led a small band of rebels on a series of raids against northeastern villages. The attacks soon focused on members of President Samuel Doe's ethnic group. By July 1990, the tribal conflict had spread to the capital.

A second rebel group led by Prince Yormic Johnson captured Monrovia on July 23. In response, ECOWAS sent 4,000 peacekeepers, known as ECOMOG troops, to Liberia in August of that year to disarm the rebel factions and pave the way for national elections.

Doe was killed by Prince Johnson's group in September 1990, and ECOMOG was left to mediate between the two rebel groups and the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). Johnson supported the West African intervention; Taylor, who was driven from the capital, has strongly opposed ECOMOG.

By November 1990, ECOWAS had established an interim government in Monrovia and a tense cease-fire was signed. Since then, Liberia has been divided, with the interim government and ECO-MOG controlling Monrovia, and the NPFL holding the rest of the country. Taylor has failed to disarm and encamp his soldiers under the terms of the accord. From stalemate to war

Prospects for peace seem dim. Momolou Sirleaf, the foreign minister for Taylor's shadow government, told a press conference in Ivory Coast last week that the NPFL would never disarm to ECOMOG because the peacekeepers had become a warring faction.