HEAVY FIGHTING REACHES CAPITAL OF LIBERIA

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Rockets streaked through the suburbs of Monrovia yesterday as Nigerian warships pounded rebel positions around the Liberian capital.

The Nigerians blasted the vicinity of Caldwell Base, a former mining complex that has frequently changed hands between Liberia's warring factions and ECOMOG, the West African peacekeeping force.

The National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), the main rebel group led by Charles Taylor, is "doing everything to retake Caldwell because that will be their easiest access to central Monrovia and the port," ECOMOG Chief of Staff Samuel Victor Malu said.

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Some of the heaviest fighting in the 28-day siege on the capital came Wednesday, when the NPFL fired on ECOMOG soldiers near the city center.

ECOMOG officers objected Wednesday when United States Assistant Secretary of State Herman Cohen said ECOMOG had become a warring faction. US officials denied the statement represented US policy. President-elect Clinton has assured Nigerian President Ibrahim Babangida that Washington would continue to cooperate with the West Africans.

Mr. Taylor invaded Liberia in December 1989, but was blocked in Monrovia by ECOMOG in late 1990. The new NPFL assault began Oct. 15, forcing ECOMOG to double its troops to about 12,000.

Roughly 200,000 refugees have flooded into Monrovia's center. Hundreds have died since the siege began.

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