Tue, Jul 29, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Liberian rebels refuse to pull back


Liberia's hungry capital prepared for more killing on its blood-spattered streets yesterday after rebels rejected a US call to pull out of Monrovia immediately so peacekeepers can come in.

Desperation is growing among more than one million people -- a third of the West African country's population -- packed into a city under raining mortars and zinging bullets, without food, clean water or a safe place to sleep.

Rebels of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) have been battling inside the city for 10 days to oust President Charles Taylor, a former warlord who, under US pressure, has agreed to quit if peacekeepers come.

West African officials were to meet again yesterday to finalize plans to send in troops, but it would certainly make it more difficult if rebels keep hold of the port. They have said they will hand it over when foreign troops come, not before.

At least 14 people were killed as fighting shifted back and forth on Sunday, but by the end of another day of spilled blood and broken bodies the front line had changed little.

"People are just moving up and down shedding tears, mourning their families. The situation is not humanly comprehensible," said aid worker Patrick Broh from the West Point district, where nearly 100 have died in recent days.

The government says 1,000 civilians have been killed in the latest attack on a city battered by 14 years of violence.

Hunching down to sprint across road junctions, ducking the bullets, has become a way of life for people who have no choice but to move in an often futile hunt for food and clean water.

Most food stocks were at the port. The city's water supply has been cut off because of fighting near pumping stations.

"It's getting impossible to work. There's no fuel and you can't even buy rice now for the hospitals," said Magnus Wolfe-Murray of UK-based aid agency Merlin.

The US Embassy called on LURD to withdraw on Sunday, saying it was the only way to cut short the growing humanitarian disaster. But LURD leader Damate Conneh said he had rejected the proposal.

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