Shelling again rocked the devastated Liberian capital Monrovia yesterday with rebels fighting for control of a strategic bridge linking the key port area to the northeastern suburbs.
"They are pounding our positions in the Stockton Creek bridge area with 81mm mortars. This morning they shelled central Monrovia from about 5:00am to 5:30am and then shifted their attention elsewhere, Defense Minister Daniel Chea said.
Rains meanwhile lashed the city. Sounds of light arms fire could be heard from the Mamba Point diplomatic quarter.
Liberian defense sources said the rebels appeared to be trying to control a route to the eastern Congo Town area, where President Charles Taylor and many top government officials have their homes.
The government forces are fighting with the rebels in that area as well.
Meanwhile, government and rebel delegates meeting in nearby Accra, Ghana struggled to meet a Tuesday deadline to agree on details of a unity government promised under a repeatedly violated June 17 cease-fire.
Despite continued differences, Charles Benny of the main rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) movement expressed satisfaction with progress on the promised peacekeeping force.
"Our troops are being told to cease fire," he said.
The government, however, said they have seen no change. "We do not trust them and they've continued to fight us all day, using the same weaponry. We have seen no change," said Taylor's spokesman, Vain Paasawe.
Hundreds of people fled the war-affected zones for the relative safety of the city's eastern districts.
LURD, the main rebel group fighting to oust Taylor for four years on Tuesday rejected a draft peace agreement drawn up by west African mediators in the Ghanaian capital Accra, saying it was inadequate.
LURD and a second rebel group, the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL), faulted the plan for failing to propose three vice presidencies in a power-sharing transitional government for the west African state.
However LURD said it had ordered their men to halt their offensive on Monrovia.
The order was made Sunday, and has been repeated, but "every time [our fighters] intended to leave an area or do a tactical withdrawal, Taylor's forces opened fire, making the situation very difficult for us," said rebel spokesman Kabineh Ja'neh.
Chea yesterday dismissed the claim as "LURD public relations."
"If [what they say] is so they have to stop fighting and pull back to their original positions at Tubmanburg," he said. Tubmanburg is about 80km from Monrovia
The defense minister also stressed that Taylor, a former warlord who played a central role in a seven-year rebel conflict that ended with his election in 1997, was prepared to quit but not under the current conditions.