Liberian Rebels Advance, U.S. Attache Ousted
Undated (AP) _ Editors: The following is based on a pool report filed by journalists in Monrovia. Associated Press correspondent Michael Goldsmith was among them.
MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) - Advancing rebel troops fought pitched battles with government soldiers close to the city center, and embattled President Samuel Doe expelled the U.S. military attache Saturday.
In neighboring Sierra Leone, the government’s official delegation to peace talks called on Doe to step down.
A Liberian government communique accused the head of the U.S. mission, Col. David Staley, of providing support to the rebels and urging government forces to defect.
In Washington, a State Department spokesman said the accusations were ″entirely without foundation.″
″Our embassy has protested vigorously to the government of Liberia,″ said the spokesman, Adam Shub. He said Staley had left Liberia, but did not say how.
The expulsion came a day after the U.S. government refused yet another appeal to send in the Marine from warships off the coast. Some Liberians have asked the United States to send in the forces as peacekeepers.
Heavy fighting drew closer to the center of the Liberian capital, Monrovia, as government troops fought with the rebels in the port, one mile west of Doe’s executive mansion.
The rebels, who began their offensive in December, had overrun most of northern Monrovia on Friday, capturing the city’s two-square-mile port area in the northern suburb of Bushrod Island.
Reporters on Saturday saw government tanks and troops taking up defensive positions on the Monrovia side of the two bridges that lead to the central city.
Heavy fighting could be heard on the far side of the bridges, and people who had visited the city’s eastern suburbs said they were in rebel hands.
The rebels advanced to the edge of Congotown, six miles from the beachfront mansion of Doe, who has resisted pleas to leave the country.
Rebels have demanded his departure as a condition for accepting a cease- fire.
Representatives of the government and the rebels have met intermittently for peace talks in neighboring Sierra Leone, but the negotiations have failed to make any progress.
The Liberian government’s delegation in Freetown issued a press release Saturday calling for Doe to resign.
The statement, signed by Information Minister Emmanuel Bowier, said the delegation on Saturday ″advised President Doe, in the supreme interest of our nation and people, to make the supreme political sacrifice in order to save Liberia from further destruction of lives and properties and to ensure his personal safety.″
The statement said the peace talks had ″collapsed.″
Doe was holed up with about 500 soldiers of his Krahn tribe. Many Krahn fear a massacre at the hands of the Gio and Mano tribesmen who make up the bulk of the rebel force of Charles Taylor, a former Doe aide.
Journalists who have visited the rebel-held zone have reported seeing the rebels killing civilians who belong to the Krahn tribe, as well as others suspected of supporting the government.
Fifteen government soldiers were reported summarily executed after being captured by the rebels Friday, one unconfirmed report said.
Human rights groups have also accused government soldiers of killing civilians.
Foreign reporters and photographers were allowed into the presidential mansion on Saturday, but Doe refused to meet them. He has not been seen in public for the past two weeks.
Doe, in a news release received by the British Broadcasting Corp. in London, alleged the expelled U.S. military attache had used U.S. government vehicles to provide supplies to the rebels. He said the attache also gave them advice.
The news release also claimed that Staley used abusive language to describe Doe in front of Liberian officers. It was not immediately clear how the expelled attache left the city. Rebels took control of all access routes into the capital Friday.
Staley may have been evacuated by helicopters based on U.S. warships off Liberia. The ships were sent in case an emergency evacuation of Americans became necessary.
On Friday, the State Department said the United States had no plans to dispatch a U.S. peacekeeping force to Monrovia.
The rebels have accused Doe, who took power in a 1980 coup, of corruption, mismanagement and human rights abuses. Taylor has promised to maintain close U.S. ties if he comes to power, but he has ruled out immediate elections.
The African nation, founded by freed American slaves 150 years ago, has traditionally had close ties with the United States.