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Liberian Rebels Battle Troops

March 29, 2002

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) _ Liberian rebels battled government troops near a northern town Thursday, one day after scores of civilians were killed during an attack on government forces, military officials said.

Senior defense officials reported fighting around the rebel-held town of Bopolu, the provincial capital of Gbarpolu County.

A day earlier, rebels attacked government positions in Suehn, 50 miles northwest of Monrovia, for several hours before fleeing into a nearby forest, a senior defense official said on customary condition of anonymity.

The rebels abducted an unknown number of residents while fleeing, leading to a government search operation in surrounding villages, said a government soldier returning from the town.

There was no independent confirmation of the report.

The soldier, who refused to be identified, said rebels killed ``scores″ of civilians at the abandoned Suehn Industrial Mission School campus, which has served for years as a refuge for displaced civilians.

``They (rebels) entered the town and started shooting indiscriminately,″ the soldier said. ``Civilians got the worst of it because they did not expect the attack and it took place at night.″

Government troops searching the town Wednesday found a wounded rebel and executed him, the soldier said.

The attack on Suehn brings to four the number of towns rebels have hit in northwestern Bomi County after advancing into neighboring Gbarpolu County several weeks ago.

Rebels have been waging a low-level civil war in northern Liberia, near the West African country’s border with Guinea, since 1999. In late January, clashes broke out near the capital for the first time.

Little is known about the insurgents but they are believed to include some who fought against warlord-turned-President Charles Taylor during a 1989-1996 civil war. That war reduced the capital of Monrovia to rubble, killed more than 150,000 people, and forced 2.6 million people from their homes.

Humanitarian workers and diplomats say some recent attacks have been carried out by unruly government soldiers bent on looting.

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