Taylor Bombards Eastern Suburbs, Trying To Take Airfield
MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) _ Rebel forces killed at least five people today in bombardments of the eastern suburbs of the capital, in an apparent attempt to take the city airport and tighten the noose on Monrovia.
The seven-nation force sent by other West African countries to end the war returned fire with mortars. The force has set up artillery at the airport to defend the critical facility.
Shelling and submachine-gun fire also crackled from the direction of Monrovia’s port, where the 7,000-man West African force has its headquarters.
For two days, its troops have been battling rebels around swamps to the northeast of the port and suburbs east of the port.
Relief workers said five people were killed in today’s rocket attack on Spriggs Payne airfield. The bombs apparently fell short of the airfield’s runway.
Casualty figures in the rebels’ 11-day assault on Monrovia have been sketchy, but hospitals said at least 344 people had been wounded and 12 killed, including the five today.
UNICEF representative Carl Tinstman said he was concerned about 313 orphans stranded by the fighting who had taken refuge in the former American Community School near the airport.
Relief workers said the orphans at the former American school were safe. However, 301 children at the Fatima Cottage in Chocolate City were still stranded by fighting in the area.
Rebel leader Charles Taylor has warned civilians to evacuate to schools, where he says they will be safe.
In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. on Sunday night, Taylor said his men would fight until they took Monrovia.
He failed in a weeks-long siege in 1990 in which 40,000 civilians starved to death before the Economic Community of West African States sent an intervention force, which bombed his fighters out of the eastern suburbs and forced a cease-fire.
Taylor has since consistently resisted cease-fire terms aimed at paving the way for national elections. The current fighting broke out two weeks ago after Taylor claimed he was attacked by the West African force.
Task force commander Maj. Gen. Adetunji Olurin of Nigeria told reporters Sunday his men were on the defensive.
″I am not at war. I am a peacekeeper, but if I am attacked I will defend myself,″ said Olurin.
Observers including relief agencies are privately criticizing the West Africans for allowing into Monrovia two other warring factions, the Armed Forces of Liberia and allied Sierra Leone-based rebels.
Both factions are largely composed of members of the Krahn tribe, the tribe of President Samuel Doe, who was executed in 1990 as the fighting raged.
Taylor’s troops are primarily from rival tribes and much of the killing since war broke out in 1989 has been based on tribal rather than political animosity.
Meanwhile, a new armed faction has appeared this month: blue-uniformed men with black berets who diplomats say are part of a force raised by interim President Amos Sawyer.
Sawyer had denied for months that he was forming his own army, but said this month that the new force was needed to improve security. That is considered an insult to the West Africans, who installed Sawyer.