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Fighting in Liberia Spreads

May 24, 2002

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MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) _ Rebel forces attacked a northwestern Liberian town Friday, sending frightened civilians fleeing toward the capital, government officials said.

Intermittent explosions from the fighting in Gbah could be heard from the outskirts of Monrovia, just 25 miles away. Liberia says it is fighting rebels backed by neighboring Guinea, but that can not be independently verified.

The rebel fighters emerged from the nearby Guthrie rubber plantation, which they had attacked the previous day, defense officials said on condition of anonymity.

Fighting along the road linking Monrovia to Sierra Leone has blocked access from the capital to the border.

Scores of civilians hoped to find safety in Monrovia, according to families who were waiting Friday in packed taxis at a checkpoint outside the coastal city.

Meanwhile, sporadic gunfire continued around the northwestern towns of Sweh, Mecca, Tubmanburg and diamond-rich Lofa Bridge, defense officials said.

Warlord-turned-President Charles Taylor has faced some of the toughest fighting in a 3-year-old insurrection in recent weeks.

He says he is being targeted by losing factions from the West African country’s bloody 1989-96 civil war, backed by Guinea.

Guinea denies the charge and accuses Liberia of supporting its own dissidents, as well as rebels from Sierra Leone who have attacked Guinean villages in the past.

Sierra Leone President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah flew Thursday to Guinea to discuss the surge in fighting with his counterpart, Lansana Conte.

The two leaders expressed a commitment to help restore peace in the troubled region in a joint statement issued late Thursday.

They also agreed to reopen a key border crossing between their respective countries following Sierra Leone’s first post-war elections. A bloody 10-year civil war was officially declared over in Sierra Leone in January.

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