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Liberia Capital Tense After Battles

September 20, 1998

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) _ Liberia accused a former rebel warlord of plotting against President Charles Taylor on Sunday, one day after pitched battles in the capital of this West African nation.

Information Minister Joe Mulbah said on state radio that Roosevelt Johnson had been training a force to subvert the government.

``The government prays that Roosevelt Johnson and his collaborators be arrested for treason,″ Mulbah said.

Moves to nab Johnson and his supporters Saturday triggered daylong firefights in downtown Monrovia, leaving at least 33 people dead.

Government troops captured Johnson’s residence Saturday after issuing an order for his arrest, but he had fled and was reportedly hiding out in the U.S. Embassy.

Embassy officials refused to comment on the claim, but Taylor issued a warning to the United States not to help Johnson and his allies.

``The Liberian government will not react lightly to any attempt by the U.S. government to evacuate those individuals,″ Taylor said in an earlier radio address.

Volunteers on Sunday began collecting dead bodies from Monrovia’s streets. Relative calm had returned to the city, but few ventured outside for fear the fighting could flare up again.

Dozens of people were wounded by stray bullets during the fighting around Johnson’s home and explosions from rocket and mortar rounds echoed through the streets for much of Saturday.

Johnson is a former foe of Taylor, but the two were among a number of warlords who signed a fragile truce in 1996, ending a seven-year civil war that left 150,000 people dead and prompted thousands more to flee their homes.

Johnson returned from exile to become Liberia’s rural development minister after Taylor won last July’s presidential elections. He has become distanced from Taylor’s administration in recent months.

Tensions between Taylor and Johnson have persisted and forces loyal to both sides have clashed several times in recent months.

In one instance, Taylor’s personal security unit clashed with Johnson’s supporters, who accused the president of trying to kidnap and assassinate their leader.

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